Philadelphia is “The City of Brotherly Love.” I have no idea who originates these Chamber of Commerce type taglines. But Philly clearly wins the prize for irony.
Take your kids to a Philadelphia Eagles or Flyers game and you’ll spend the entire ride home answering questions about all the new permutations of profanity overheard during the game.
But if you really want to experience “Brotherly Love” in all its irony, just start a debate with a Philly native about the city’s iconic sandwiches. Well, as your editor here at Proud American Traveler, I’m going to do just that — and take on one of my own writers!
In case you missed it, Proud American Traveler writer Henry Musick recently gave his take on eating your way through the City of Brotherly love.
Tradition vs. Evolution
Ol’ Henry hewed close to tradition, extoling the virtues of a visit to Pat’s and Geno’s at the corner of East Passyunk and 9th in South Philly where the cheesesteak was first invented 86 years ago.
Nobody respects tradition more than me. But I also believe in the theory of evolution — at least when it comes to cheesesteaks.
Cheap, sinewy beef tossed on a hard chewy roll slathered in Cheese Whiz. That’s what they’ve been serving in South Philly since 1933.
Come on, man. You can do better than that!
Jim’s Steaks Best in Philly?
I’ve always thought the slightly more evolved cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks (circa 1939) was far more superior to Pat’s and Geno’s. Jim’s focuses more attention on the details in my opinion — fresh beef mashed up with onions into a delirious meat and onion hash.
Most important of all, you can actually get a beer at Jim’s to wash down all that Cheese Whiz. Alas, Pat’s and Geno’s is where you go after you are DONE drinking in Philly.
Now, what I am about to write next is complete sacrilege to the Philly cheesesteak debate and an affront to tradition itself.
I’ll Take a Bala Cynwyd Cheesesteak
The best Philly cheesesteak I’ve ever had wasn’t actually in Philadelphia. It can be found in the godforsaken Philly suburb of Bala Cynwyd, about eight miles north of South Philly.
And trust me, it hurts me as much as it hurts you to say that.
I’ve always found that the best places to eat in America are at century-old urban dives or rural barbeque shacks and fish camps out in the woods. Generally, the suburbs are a barren hellscape for good eats.
But a small family-run Italian place called Mama’s Pizzeria in Bala Cynwyd served the best Philly cheesesteak I’ve ever eaten.
Cheesesteak at a suburban pizza joint? Huh?
Well, it makes a bit more sense when you realize that the Philly cheesesteak was invented by Italian immigrants in South Philadelphia.
So maybe it’s not so surprising that an Italian pizza chef perfected the concept.
Paul Castellucci’s masterpiece cheesesteak at Mama’s has repeatedly been voted the best in Philadelphia.
That’s like being named the drunkest guy at a Phillies game. Or winning a beauty contest among Donald Trump’s ex-girlfriends.
It’s pretty stiff competition.
But Mama’s cheesesteak is a thing of beauty.
Tender and succulent, the beef just melts in your mouth. But it’s the blend of gourmet cheese and caramelized onions that melds with the beef that will make you forever forget about all that Whiz wit’ and wit’out nonsense.
At Mama’s, it is meat and cheese — not separate entities — but joined together as one in holy matrimony.
Each bite yields an exquisite cheesy, beefy comingling of luxurious flavor.
The fresh baked Italian bread softens the squooshy goodness even further.
By the way, you can read my full review of Mama’s Pizzeria here.
Eat Your Broccoli (Rabe)
But to veer from mere sacrilege to outright heresy, the best sandwich in Philadelphia is not the cheesesteak.
It is the Italian roast pork sandwich.
And the best place to get the best sandwich in the city is one Henry Musick didn’t even bother to mention — Tony Luke’s.
Slow roasted, marinated, paper-thin sliced pork is piled on a long Italian sub roll. On top are thin slices of provolone. Underneath it all is a delicious layer of broccoli rabe.
And did he just use the words broccoli and delicious in the same sentence?
Before you unsubscribe to Proud American Traveler, please let me explain.
Broccoli rabe has absolutely nothing to do with the nasty microwave-steamed broccoli your mother made you eat when you were a kid.
It doesn’t even look like broccoli. And it sure doesn’t taste like broccoli — at least not the kind my mother forced me to eat.
Broccoli rabe is a marinated, garlicy, spicy green spread that perfectly complements the slow roasted pork. In fact, it just might be one of the single greatest sandwich condiments ever invented.
And by the way, Tony Luke’s also offers spinach rabe, which is equally delicious.
Biting into a Tony Luke’s roast pork sandwich is an explosion of flavor — a perfect blend of pork, cheese, bread, garlic and spice. You’ll never order another “Whiz wit” again.
There. I said it.
Go ahead. I dare you.
Shower me with “Brotherly Love” in the comments below.
I can take it.