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Nov 12, 2010 11:07 AM

FOILED AGAIN by the bizarro hours at John's Roast Pork.

*****Don't worry... this is NOT yet another "WHERE IS THE BEST CHEESE STEAK IN PHILLY" thread*****

I am ashamed to admit that I have never eaten a real Philly cheese steak.

Oh sure, we always had steakumms in our freezer, and there is any number of inferior approximations at chainlets in airports and food courts across the country. But I've never had a real, local, south philly creation, despite the fact that I grew up in New Jersey.

Well, I'm going to fix that. This Thanksgiving, my wife and I are flying into Philly on the Weds before the holiday. We are arriving 4:30pm. Here's the gameplan.

One steak at Chink's to share.
One steak at Steve's Prince of Steaks to share.

Consume, compare and contrast. Maybe snap a few photos. That's the plan.

We desperately wanted to try John's Roast Pork, but their 3pm closure/no weekend hours make that a virtual impossibility. They're always closed by the time I arrive in Philly.

So here are my questions:

Steve's Prince of Steaks:
-- Which location? Where's the original? Are some locations better than others?
-- What's the best preparation of Steve's steak? Prov? Whiz? etc.
-- Does the funny ordering Geno's/Pat's patois happen here too?

-- $5 large cheesesteak weds is super awesome deal, which we'll take full advantage of
-- What's with the name?
-- What's the best preparation of cheese steak here?
-- Same question about quirky ordering procedure here?

Really looking forward to this culinary adventure. We'll order sandwiches based on your advice.

We'll leave the Great Hoagie Debate until next time.

Mr Taster

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  1. If you are going to go to Chinks, you are really in between going to either the bustleton location or the comly location. I prefer the latter because it is easier to park there. I personally always order provolone. They will have instructions on how to order up there, but don't worry... you will get what you want.

    Chink was the nickname of the original owner Samuel Sherman. The name was not a racial slur, and though it has been criticized over the years, has never changed its name. I would again order provolone, and the other thing to do is to get a milkshake at Chinks. Its part of the charm of the place.

    A comment on John's and their hours. It really function as a luncheonette, focusing on breakfast and lunch, for a weekday business crowd. The limiting factor used to be when they ran out of rolls, they would close down. The owner John Bucci has been fighting a courageous battle against leukemia over the past few years, but has returned to the shop. It is worth your time to visit there if you can find the time.

    A last comment about the day you are coming in. Day before a holiday. Call ahead to make sure that they are not closing early.

    PS If you want an authentic Philadelphia sandwich, have a roast pork and skip the cheesesteak. Much better flavor.

    29 Replies
    1. re: cwdonald

      Thanks for the reply, and the brief history lesson. (By the way, I think you meant to say "Steve's" in the first sentence, as Chink's only has 1 location to my knowledge.)

      My wife is born and raised in Taiwan. As a result she is blissfully free of the emotional baggage that comes from that nasty sounding word, and she actually finds the Chink's name pretty amusing and, in her words, "cute". Just goes to show you, words are so much more than just a means of conveying straight facts.

      Would you recommend roast pork at both Steve's and Chink's? If so, we're looking at trying 4 sandwiches between the 2 of us... roast pork is a lesser known sandwich, so I have very few expectations or understanding of what makes a great one, so a roast pork primer would be most welcome. What cut of pork? Is it an au jus dip style thing? Is the pork marinated? On a hoagie roll? etc. What's the preferred way of ordering one? Is this a wit prov wit whiz situation like the cheesesteak?

      Sadly, John's is just not possible-- I already called around to all 3 places, and that's how we settled on Chink's and Steve's. We're arriving Weds after John's closes, and they're closed Thurs-Sun. We leave Sunday morning. Both Chink's and Steve's are open late on the Weds before (in fact Steve's is open until 3am).

      Mr Taster

      1. re: Mr Taster

        For Steve's, you'll want to go the location on Princeton, near Bustleton and order the cheesesteak. I prefer American or provolone--but cheese choice is a hot button topic on this board. And no, no strange ordering protocol--just tell them what you want.

        And I'm not surprised they are open until 3 am Wed. When I was younger (many years ago) it was the neighborhood place to go after the bars closed.

        1. re: gaffk

          You are right. The night before Thanksgiving is one of the biggest bar nights. So it would make sense to stay open.

          I am curious why you prefer Princeton over Comly. I have found no difference. (I haven't been to the Langhorne location though.)

          1. re: cwdonald

            I think I prefer Princeton just because it's the original and has what would now be thought of as a retro feel (albeit, there's is authentic). I haven't tried Langhorne either, but I agree there is no difference, from a food perspective, between the two.

            (Besides, the Princeton Ave Steve's has many good 3:00 am memories for me ;)

          2. re: gaffk

            It is not at Princeton. It's at St. Vincent, just south of Cottman Avenue.

            1. re: SushiFreak

              My bad . . .grew up in that neighborhood, so just got there instinctively.

          3. re: Mr Taster

            I am sorry for they typos in the first paragraph. I meant to say if you are COMING from Chink's you could go to either of the Steve's locations, the Comly or the Bustleton Ave location. Approximately equidistant.

            Sadly, I do not think that Roast Pork is a specialty at either place. You can search this board and find out some of the better places, including DiNics in the Reading Terminal Market, Tony Lukes, Paesanos, Carlino's in Ardmore. I personally love Pallantes in Richboro and Altamantes in Doylestown. But if you are getting to the RTM, DiNics is right there and they make a great sandwich, so that probably would be the way to go.

            Have a wonderful trip to Philadelphia, and we look forward to reading about your experiences!

            1. re: cwdonald

              DiNic's sounds like a great idea... I'd read about DiNic's on a previous visit to Philly, but never got to Reading Terminal Market.

              So since I'm a big proponent of only ordering what places are best at making, I'll hit up DiNic's for the roast pork sandwich, and I'll stick with the cheesesteaks at Chink's and Steve's. I just don't see the point of ordering a good roast pork from Chink's when I can get a great one from DiNics.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                Yes, go to DiNic's for lunch Friday or Saturday and order it wet,,,,,i orefer w/ broccoli rabe

                1. re: bonappetite

                  +1 because there is no other way to order this sandwhich in my most humble opinion

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  The roast pork at DiNic's is my favorite! I also really like Steve's for a cheesesteak. Not being from this area, it took me quite a while to warm up to the "cheesesteak" concept. But in the end, I order Whiz with onion. I have tried all the touted joints.

                  1. re: crazyspice

                    What's the parking situation like for Reading Terminal Market? Any free parking nearby? Is parking for RTM exorbitant?

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Google Central Parking Philadelphia for great coupons in Chinatown, or take the train into Market East. Have fun! My foodie friends from Boston just hit RTM for the first time two weeks ago, and they're still raving about it. :D

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        There is metered street parking around the market. There is also a parking lot at 12th & Filbert that you can use, and if you spend more than $10 at a merchant, they can validate your ticket so it only costs $4.


                        1. re: barryg

                          The lot is a great deal. It's right across the street from RTM, and I've never had a problem getting a spot. Metered parking can run you almost as much and you won't get as close to the market. And believe me, you'll have no problem spending $10. In addition to the ready-to-eat stuff, there's plenty of things to bring home for gifts, snacks for the plane, etc.

                    2. re: Mr Taster

                      DiNic's at RTM runs out. So make sure you get there early.

                      My favorite roast pork is at Nick's Cafe, 20th and Jackson in South Philly. An 'only in Philly' experience. They will immediately know you are not a local unless you are wearing your Eagles jacket. It's a bar that has ovens in the basement for roasting beef, pork, turkey, and ham. Fries on the side. No menu. If you enjoy getting off the beaten path, it doesn't get more untrodden than this.

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        DiNic's roast pork is hands down the best sandwich Philadelphia (roast peppers and provolone).

                    3. re: Mr Taster

                      OK, so for the record, I'm answering my own newbie question about how to order a proper roast pork sandwich courtesy of Serious Eats.

                      Feel free to correct this if you find the info inaccurate.

                      "Just as with the cheesesteak, there are variations. But most aficionados agree that a roast pork sandwich with garlicky broccoli rabe and sharp provolone cheese is a holy trinity of Philly flavors. Next time you are here, skip the partially-hydrogenated cheesefood and that stupid, offensive sign. Chow down on the roast pork instead."


                      (what "stupid, offensive sign" are they referring to??)

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        Correct on both counts. A good roast pork sandwich comes with broccoli rabe and provolone.

                        A good cheesesteak does not include "the partially-hydrogenated cheesefood," but a good American or provolone cheese.

                        And Reading Terminal Market is a must--you could just eat your way through it for days--and purchase enough authentically PA Dutch food to bring home for your pantry.

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          The sign they are referring to is one that was on display at Geno's cheesesteaks in south Philly, a xenophobic sign in a multicultural neighborhood.

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            l do it a little different, at DiNic's get pulled pork, spinach,and aged provolone wet, wet, wet. My feeling for a long time was Chink's is the best of chopped style and Steve's the best of sliced style. Feel best sandwich in city is Nick's Roast beef with prov and drowned. If in RTM Wed 11/24, come to Downtown cheese, then yell chowhound. Will be working there as a favor to the owner.

                            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                              Ah thanks for that but RTM is not in the stars for Weds. Maybe Friday.... hopefully!

                              Mr Taster

                              P.S. I am guessing you meant Weds 11/24....

                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                    i'm sure it was a good time for quiet meditation, and to gather your inner calm.

                                    1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                      Actually was a lot more quiet than in previous years. When worked for same owner, Jack Morgan at his Ardmore store in the 90's we walked in to three people deep the entire day, no time to pee even. This was far more leisurely, busy but very doable.

                                      1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                        Agreed, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, RTM is my go-to spot for calm quiet.

                                      2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                        I do believe we chatted. Someone else was waiting on me but there was no one else around so you asked what else I needed.

                              1. re: cwdonald

                                Nice try about why the name isn't a racial slur, but you should have also told the OP why C**** was the nickname of the original owner.

                              2. Both Steve's locations in the city are good. I haven't been to the other one. A friend of mine once asked a guy that worked there which location was better. He thought about, and said the Comly Ave one because the grill was newer. But someone on this board once made the counter argument that the older grill would be more "seasoned" and have more flavor. Anyway they are both great, though the Bustleton & St Vincent location is the original and has a bit more charm to me.

                                I highly recommend you order with "both cheeses"--this is both whiz and liquefied American. The way the flavors mingle is really sublime. I like mine with hot peppers and of course onions.

                                Get a birch beer to drink with it.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: barryg

                                  Believe it or not, Steve's doesn't have birch beer anymore. They switched to root beer. I almost cried that last time I was there.

                                2. I just realized that your post references a "South Philly creation," but both of these shops are in the Northeast! Not to take anything away from them--there are great cheesesteaks in all of Philadelphia's neighborhoods (except for Center City...).

                                  1. The original comment has been removed
                                    1. I dont know if you will be any where near Bala Cynwyd but Mama's cheesesteaks are different because they make them with mozzarella, and they weigh about two pounds a piece. We used to refer to them as a log of meat and cheese. They are especially good with hot roasted peppers chopped up and mixed in when they are prepared by the cook. I can eat a half of one.

                                      16 Replies
                                      1. re: thehungrything

                                        I live in Bala Cynwyd, and have only had one steak at Mama's (though I can walk there in about five minutes,) They claim to use a three-cheese blend, but I could only taste the gummy mozz. Also it was served on essentially pizza dough as a roll.

                                        I'll give them points for quantity, but then again they are not cheap. I do like their hoagies, though.

                                        Most pizza joints will server a "pizza steak" made with mozz and toasted in the oven. I personally think crisping the otherwise chewy roll ruins the textural "gestalt" of the steak experience.

                                        If you are near Bala Cynwyd, it is only a few miles to Dakota Pizza in Wynnewood :


                                        Their steak on a seeded roll is the closest to John's I have tasted, but you have to ask them to scoop the roll, which John's does by default. They will make a combo Whiz/ American which I really like. Like most good steaks, eat it on prem, as they don't travel well (especially if you use marinara sauce, which I ask for on the side.)

                                        1. re: phillyjazz

                                          Whew, so glad to hear one of you "Steak guy" mention marinara sauce! As basically an out-of-towner I always ate cheesesteaks with provolone and marinara and had considered that the formula for a cheesesteak before I was enlightened by the Philly guys who know. Not that I changed my ordering but I now understand my choices are not "the Philly Cheesesteak". Considering what I thought to be standard: I can't tell you how many times I was disappointed when I was delivered the real thing! Just a personal choice, I know, but good to hear that someone somewhere also likes marinara on their steaks. Whew!

                                          1. re: Bacchus101

                                            I'm not going to judge (publicly) how you eat your steak, but at some of the South Philly places what you really want is "gravy" or "red sauce," not marinara. If you order a side of marinara from Franco Luigi's, you get some cold, nasty crap in a little plastic cup, but if you get a side of red sauce, you get their delicious, warm, homemade sauce in a large styrofoam container.

                                            1. re: barryg

                                              I grew up eating steaks with sauce, no cheese. Still get that on occasion. i just asked for "sauce" - "gravy" is an odd, south-philly thing. i was born and raised in philly, and while i've long been aware of teh south philly meaning, if you ask me to describe gravy it's not tomato sauce.

                                              1. re: Bob Loblaw

                                                Exactly on point Bob. Gravy is a south-philly thing. Also noted here are how non-italian are many of the South Philly terms and how they are pronounced here as opposed to Italy. So I suppose this is the "When in Philly" thing. I could not say "when in Rome do as Romans do" because this book notes that Italians would not know the Italian American Philly terms. Quite normal when Americanization happens to any ethnic term or food!

                                                1. re: Bacchus101

                                                  Is "gravy" not used by Italian-American communities in NYC and Boston? I always thought it was an old East Coast immigrant thing.

                                                  It's funny how many Philadelphians, Italian-American and otherwise, think that the bastardized Sicilian (I think?) pronunciations common in South Philly are the correct way to speak Italian. Eg, "priscut" for prosciutto, "rigot" for ricotta, etc. I know on The Soprano's they would say "gabagool" for capicola, which is pretty much the pinnacle of this vernacular. They are supposed to represent the North Jersey Italian-Americans.

                                                  1. re: barryg

                                                    I know that this is taking this discussion totally off subject, but I’d like to put my two cents in here

                                                    I had a set of grandparents from Southern Italy, in a little town called Casalduni, not far from Benevento where they make Strega. My Grandmothers family were servants, my grandfathers family, farm workers. Neither had any education in Italy, my grandmother leaned to read and write in English when she came to the US as a pre-teen, my grandfather didn’t get here till he was nearly 15, so he never bothered.

                                                    My grandparents used pronounce Capicolla as gababool, and eggplant was moulinyan, mozzarella was moosarel, cucuzza or zucchini was gagootz. basilico sounded more like muhsinuhgo, they had their own DIALECT, people in different parts of Italy as recent as the 1900’s all had a dialect, they all spoke their own version of Italian, to the point that had they gone to say Palermo, they’d be hard-pressed to be understood… or if someone from Bologna had come to Casalduni, they’d have a hard time understanding them in turn.

                                                    As the country has become more educated, there is more of a standardization to the language and manner of speaking. Provincial jargon disappears and dialects become less pronounced. Today, an educated Italian would scratch is or her head if my Grandmother were still alive and in her thick Casalduni accent asked for a half kilo of “gabbagool” because the people in Italy today are all educated, they don’t leave kids to work in the fields from the time they can lift a pitchfork.
                                                    (on the other hand, my other grandparent came to this country very very young and his family was considered "well to do" in Siracusa Sicily, his mother and father were both educated business owners so he spoke "proper" or what today would be textbook Italian with very little jargon, or dialect.

                                                    Oh and my grandmom moved to Norristown, (Blackhorse) and her and her sisters all called red sauce that had been cooked with meat in it “gravy”
                                                    Red sauce with no meat was Marinara

                                                    1. re: cgarner

                                                      "Red sauce with no meat was Marinara"

                                                      Don't you mean "Madinad"? ;)

                                                        1. re: cgarner

                                                          A little, but I speak fluent 'talian.

                                                      1. re: cgarner

                                                        Very interesting. I'd always wondered where those odd Italian-American word variants came from. Even stranger is during my teenage years when my solidly Jewish American father from NJ came home one day, spontaneously deciding to call it "mootzarell" and "rigott". Eventually he started saying it in public, to my great embarrassment. Sad to say that this was my introduction to the world of the Italian-American dialect (circa late 80s).

                                                        Mr Taster

                                                        1. re: Mr Taster

                                                          To me, it's just like regional accents (Boston, New York, Southern accents, etc.). Just because we're all from the same country doesn't mean we all "tawk" the same way.

                                                          1. re: Philly Ray

                                                            Of course..... for another regional variant, go up to New Naven for Sally's Apizz with mutz or no mutz.

                                                            Mr Taster

                                                          2. re: Mr Taster

                                                            Mr Tasty, my Jewish American father (from Phila) did the same thing!

                                                          3. re: cgarner

                                                            Quite an interesting view into your family and how names evolved. Dialect and regionalism, is an issue here in the US as in other countries as is education level. Working in Germany I was surprised to hear of the extra effort required by some Germans from one region to fully understand those from another. Regional remoteness and level of social and commercial intercourse with other regions is also a factor which can either retard or enhance local language and move dialects toward a more generic norm. Very interesting stuff, thank you for you insights. Oh, and on the Marinara agreed here that it is meatless and that if I heard "gravy" or red sauce I would believe there were meat products included. But then there is not one Italian or Italian American in my family. Just a girlfriend years ago who's family Sunday dinners were fantastic!

                                                            1. re: Bacchus101

                                                              Bacchus, you're so very right about it being an issue here in the United States as well. Think about the Cajun accent or language if you will. To someone like me, it’s hard to understand and peppered with words that evolved from French English and probably African and Spanish and Native American too.