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What's "wit" the "wiz" -- Cheeseteaks for a prodigal Philadelphian

I moved out of Philadelphia in 1975, and on my trips back, I haven't found cheesesteaks of the quality I remember. I will be visiting for the day in a few weeks, and I'd like to get an idea of the better choices in Center City. (i.e within walking distance of 30th street station, suburban station, or Market East Station -- I won't have a car).

I also have a question about the cheese. The Kerry faux-pas of 2004 gave the idea that a real Philadelphia cheese steak has to be made with that disgusting cheez-wiz stuff. Some of the cheesteak posts I've researched here also indicate that many of the hounds seem to think that the "wiz" is what makes a cheesesteak authentically Philadelphian. Tell me it ain't so! In my "yout" when I wandered around "souPhilly," we preferred cheesesteaks made with provolone. I hope that when I visit now and order a cheeseteak with proveleone, I won't be treated with the derision that John Kerry got for ordering one with swiss. Is Cheez-wiz now de rigeur for a cheesesteak?

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  1. no, most of the neighborhood places still use american or deli provolone.

    1. I'm a transplant, not a native, but I prefer American or provolone on my cheesesteaks.

      DiNic's in Reading Terminal Market is easily accessible from Market East, and I like their cheesesteaks. You'll also be able to graze your way around many other cuisines should you want a not-just-cheesesteak meal.

      2 Replies
      1. re: truman

        I think you mean the roast pork at DiNic's? Or are you referring to their roast beef? Either way, DiNic's has never served cheesesteaks. But they may be trying a meatball sandwich in the near future :)

        1. re: bluehensfan

          Doh, you're right, I meant the roast pork. Sorry!

      2. Campo's is probably your best bet in CC, but CC isn't the best neighborhood for cheesesteaks.

        I prefer mine with whiz, but American and Provolone are standard options, and you won't be derided for ordering them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: deprofundis

          Campo's can be pretty grisly, though. On the same block, Sonny's has very good cheesesteaks. I usually get mine with American.

          But closer to Market East...my SO got a cheesesteak from Carmen's in RTM a couple of days ago, and seemed to enjoy it very much. He was supposed to leave some for me, which didn't happen.

          1. re: gina

            +1 on Sonny's. Perfect amount of steak.

        2. My go-to is Chink's on Torresdale Ave, N Phila though.

          8 Replies
            1. re: Delucacheesemonger

              Looking at the menu online, Chinks appeasr to have all three available (no swiss sorry John Kerry). Most places default to american unless you ask for something else.

              http://tinyurl.com/6ohtbcv

              1. re: cwdonald

                Are Chink's milkshakes as good as everyone says, or is it just the fact that it's more of a tradition to grab a milk shake at that type of place?

                1. re: tzanghi

                  Old style hand scooped ice cream in an old light green Hamilton Beech, good stuff.

                  1. re: tzanghi

                    I've only been to Chink's once but the milkshake was truly outstanding (and the cheesesteak had the least amount of grease of any cheesesteak I've ever had).

              2. re: Delucacheesemonger

                Is Chink's using better rolls now? I made a special trip to try them once about a decade ago, and the roll my sandwich was on was so soft and squishy it was like a hot dog bun.

                1. re: StrandedYankee

                  Their roll always seemed like the norm, Carangi or Amoroso. l have felt a softer roll is necessary for steak sandwich than for a hoagie, but maybe that is me.

                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                    Well, I agree that you don't want a roll with a heavy crust for a cheesesteak. I do think that you want a bit of chewiness in the crust, but not a lot. The guts of the roll, though...That's different. To me the perfect roll for a cheesesteak has a thin, somewhat chewy crust, and the bread itself is light, but it's also sort of tough. It's light enough to bite through fairly easily and sort of collapse around and conform to the filling, but tough enough to absorb the grease, oil and liquids from the steak, cheese, onions and whatever else you are putting in there without turning into school paste.

                    One thing...I find that the best rolls for either cheesesteaks or hoagies are not necessarily great breads for just eating bread. You don't want a heavy, dense peasant-y bread because it takes too much chewing before you can even taste your fillings, and the denser bread doesn't absorb the grease very well. However, you don't want a light, delicate bread either because they won't stand up to the fillings and condiments without turning into paste. What do you think?

              3. I grew up here. I don't remember anyone being all fussy about 'wit' and 'wiz.' I do remember wiz being around, but this whole 'you have to order it this way' is new. and i think that just about every place will have provolone.

                my guess is that the only places that insist you order it like a real philadelphian are, ironically, the tourist places.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Bob Loblaw

                  Spot on. Cheez Whizzed cheesesteaks is for Foodnetwork watching tourists. When I was a kid (under 30) the standard cheesesteak in the hoagie/cheesesteak shops was made with american or provolone cheese/ ribeye steak. Lots of competition (there were 4 places in my neighborhood, all made a worthy sandwich).

                2. I have yet to eat a real Philly cheesesteak (I live near Montreal), but I'm guessing the wit wiz mania is (in part) based on the Foodnetwork's spotlight on the Pat's vs Geno's rivalry. Watching the program, you'd think ordering a cheesesteak in Philadelphia is like ordering at the Soup Nazi: you get it wrong and you'll be run out of town.
                  The program does touch on provolone and american, but seems to say if you want it authentic, its gotta be wit wiz...
                  Although I'd give it a try, I'm happy to hear wit wiz isn't necessary for a great cheesesteak.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: porker

                    The steaks at Pat's and Geno's are actually enhanced by the wiz, the steak is bland and the sandwich kind of dry so the wiz adds salt and moisture. At the better places, American or Prov are fine, many don't even have wiz.

                    1. re: porker

                      Worry not. In my humble, Cheeze Whiz detracts from a great cheesesteak. My personal preference is for white American cheese.

                    2. I'm a native. I want to agree that Whiz is for the tourists, but too many of my lifelong friends love the orange gook on their cheesesteaks. I don't care for provolone on steaks (doesn't melt well enough) or mozzarella (too stringy). I prefer American because it melts into the meat enough to become like a sauce...I guess almost like Cheez Whiz, but not as oversalty and without the harsh chemical flavor. Give me American with mushrooms and extra fried onions, please!

                      1. From west Philly and Delco, left town 1984, the standard cheese back then was white american; provolone you had to ask for. Don't understand the wiz mania.

                        1. OK, so I am on my way home from Philly. I went to Sonny's and had my cheesesteak. Some of you may say it's not the best in town, but it was head and shoulders above the what they pass off as cheesesteaks in Maryland and DC. The first was the meat, which was real thinly-sliced meat. They say "rib-eye," and it looks like they get this 2 foot long log of meat frozen and shrink wrapped. They unrap it and slice it right out front. I guess it's it's a cut from the rib, though I've never seen a log of meat like that in the butcher's shop. Anyway, it's certainly not steak-ums, and there's no pink slime. It tasted pretty good, too.

                          As for the cheese, the provolone was as I remember it, it melts and it's a less gooey than mozzarella, and unlike American it has body.But, as people have said here and elsewhere, it's deli provolone, it doesn't have a whole lot of flavor.

                          The final aspect is the roll. It was good, it had more body than a Maryland/DC sub roll, but I seem to remember that Philly rolls had a bit of a crispy crust, and this didn't have that.

                          All in all, though, I was a satisfied customer

                          One thing, though. The price with tax was about $8.00. According to my handy inflation calculator, that's the equivalent of $1,42 back in 1971, the year I graduated from Central High. I distinctly remember that cheesesteaks back then cost about 75 cents, or about $4.25 in today's money. Is there anywhere in Philly where one can get a cheesestak for $5?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: ConsApi

                            Cons thanks for the thoughtful write up. A couple of comments. Sonny's bakes their own rolls, so depending how long they have been around they may be softer or harder. I have also noticed there are generally two styles of rolls.. what I would call the amaroso "wonder bread" soft style of rolls, and the roll that is closer to italian bread. Liscios or Sarcones might be an example of the crustier version.

                            Regarding price. There are places that have cheaper cheesteaks. I remember a place in the northeast, Pizza City that had a steak for about five dollars. The size and the quality will not be the same.

                            1. re: cwdonald

                              "I remember a place in the northeast, Pizza City that had a steak for about five dollars. The size and the quality will not be the same."

                              Hmm, you might be right. My memory suggests that cheeseteaks circa 1971 might have been smaller than the one Sonny dished up to me today.

                              On the other hand, back when I was 16, 17, I could have inhaled that Sonny's steak (or a couple of them) with no affect on my appetite or weight.

                              Maybe they need to sell "small" steaks for $5

                              1. re: ConsApi

                                Oh my God, do you mean Pizza City on Frankford Ave? Twenty years ago, they made my favorite cheesesteak in the Northeast. I didn't care for their pizza, but their cheesesteaks were perfect...Utterly unfancy, and absolutely perfect. Does anyone know if they are still making a good cheesesteak?

                              2. re: cwdonald

                                I don't think Sonny's bakes their own rolls. Pretty sure they are Amoroso's.

                              3. re: ConsApi

                                FWIT, a "ribeye" starts out as a rib roast like this
                                http://www.finecooking.com/assets/upl...
                                remove the ribs and you have a "ribeye" roast.
                                Its one of the best cuts, certainly not steakums as you say.