Life After Cheesesteak

FYI - this is NOT a cheesesteak

I’ve lived a pretty good life. I may have been a slow starter, or late bloomer, or whatever, but I’ve learned to take life by the horns and go for the gusto. When it comes to food anyway.

I grew up in a small coastal town on the Chesapeake Bay. Okay, I grew up in the sticks. We were just happy when we finally got a McDonald’s in town. Pizza, to me, was a thin cardboard rectangular crust with a layer of cheese dripping with puddles of grease on top. Chinese food came from LaChoy and came out of a can.

Then I moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Now Cleveland may not be known for its culinary treasures but it was there I got my first taste of Thai food, buffalo wings, pierogies, and real Chinese food. I fell in love with it all and that love affair continues on. My most memorable travel experiences always involve the food I ate.

My most recent trip to Philadelphia was no exception.

When you go to Philadelphia, what do you eat? That’s rhetorical, of course, because everyone knows you have to have a cheesesteak.

When I tweeted that I was on my way up to the city of brotherly love, I got a nice tweet back from Cord Silverstein, a local marketing guru, who told me that he is originally from there. So my next logical question was where to get an ooey, gooey, honest-to-goodness, Philly cheesesteak. His recommendations? Jim’s or Pat’s.

Jim’s or Pat’s? No fancy names like “The Greatest All-American Cheesesteak in All of Philadelphia”? Or “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellent Cheesesteak”? Where was the marketing creativity?

I asked one of the local women at the conference on Friday night. She promptly told me Pat’s or Geno’s, but that she preferred Geno’s because the chopped steak at Pat’s reminded her of something that might come out of a can for her canine friends. Hmmm. Guess it was on to Geno’s, then.

On Saturday, as hunger pains started setting in during my conference in Philly, I casually took out my iPad to “take notes” and secretly scout out what might be the best choice for my cheesesteak. I had no idea what I was in for.

It’s Pat’s or Geno’s. Or Pat’s or Jim’s. Or Jim’s or Tony Luke’s. There’s what the locals eat and what the tourists eat. There’s a preference in taste, texture, toppings, meat (some recommended pork), location, staff, history. You name it and everyone has an opinion.

Turns out Pat’s and Geno’s are probably the most well known and right across the street from each other so my traveling companion, Amy, and I headed in that vicinity to make our decision upon arrival.

Geno's Steaks

First impression of Geno’s? I think I did a time warp to Las Vegas to their newest cheesesteak-themed hotel called Geno’s. I didn’t make my decision solely on that but let me show you Pat’s, across the street.

Pat's King of Steaks

Quiet, unassuming, with an air of authenticity. This looked like the kind of place that has stood the test of time. I made my choice. I was going to Pat’s. No looking back.

I had been warned explicitly about how to order my sandwich. Trina, a local blogger who knows her food, told me that I needed to order it “wit” or “witout.” That would indicate my preference for onions or not. Now for the arguably the most important part of the cheesesteak… the cheese. I wanted the ooey, gooey kind. Thankfully, Trina again told me that I needed to ask for “whiz” which one can only assume refers to deliciously pasteurized process cheese spread affectionately known as Cheese Whiz.

It’s a walk up counter and it’s cash only. I felt nervous. I knew I was going to screw this up. I studied the menu board intently.

Ordering Instructions

I was snapped back to reality by the guy behind the counter saying “there’s nothing on that board that I can’t already tell you.”

I walked up.

“I’d like a cheesesteak. Wit. Whiz.”

I sounded like Queen Elizabeth trying to speak slang. It came out all wrong. But I did it. I got it out. I was a natural! Until he looked at me and said you look like a schoolteacher. He didn’t mean it in the hot-sexy-wish-my-teacher-had-looked-like-you way. He meant it in the you-have-your-hair-in-ponytails-and-are-wearing-glasses-and-look-like-a-school-marm way. I shrunk, until Amy sprung to my rescue and said, “she’s actually a stripper.”

Suddenly, I got my cheesesteak with a smile and it was perfect in every way.

And this is what heaven looks like

Think someone with a petite frame like mine has a petite appetite? Not a chance. I ate every. last. bite.

"This is our only store"

And as I was finishing, I started to panic about the fact that I may never make it back to Philadelphia. The paper beneath my sandwich was taunting me.


Then I looked up from my wrapper only to see a sign from God. Another location!

Another location!

Turns out it was only cruel mockery. They tried a store in Atlantic City but it just didn’t make it. I would have to find my way back to Pat’s again some way, some how to experience this heaven in a wrapper…

Anyone up for a roadtrip next weekend?

  • Andrea W

    Philly’s homebase for me, despite now living in Cincinnati. Pat’s lover here. If you order it wrong you are sent to the back of the line. No joke. So remember it’s ‘wit or ‘wit out when you order. Don’t be a rookie. :)

    • Anonymous

      Thank God they weren’t busy when I went. I just feel sorry for the Asian tourists that ordered after I did.

  • Gina

    Love the gusto of your food blogs! I have absolutely no idea what Cheez Whiz is actually made of and please don’t ever tell. I can just imagine you with your East coast airs and perfect grammar trying to spit out slang like “wit” and “whiz.” Great little ditty. :) More like this, please.

    • Anonymous

      Another food post coming on Friday: all about the macaroni & cheese :)

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  • Stay At Home Babe

    You’ll have to think of a stage name before you go back. It’s the hallmark of every stripper, and you’ll never pass without it. Please, please, please avoid car names… Porsche, Mercedes, etc… UNacceptable. Adjectives, no good… no Precious, no Beautiful. Think long and hard. If you choose unwisely, you can’t change it until your next trip!

    • Anonymous

      I actually think Fadra could work as a stripper name but just in case, I found a stripper name generator online. I need to know if you approve:

      Amber LustyPassion

  • Robin Huwe

    One of my travel dreams is to go around the country and eat at all the famous local places! So I’m ready for a road trip any time! :-)

    • Anonymous

      Have you tried Johnson’s Burgers in Siler City? If not, definitely worth the trip!! My local fave!!

  • thebigsister

    You better not be dissing Pizza Oven!

    • Anonymous

      Pizza Oven? Who are you and where did you come from, you troll?

      Let’s face it. Pizza Oven has it’s appeal much like bland spaghetti. But it was/is no culinary delight.

  • Dianna Kennedy

    Now, see, I was ALL ABOUT the glitzy Geno’s! I loved the fact that he is a huge supporter of police, fire and EMS.

    I’m like you, and ate every last bite of mine, wit provolone. However, said cheesesteak was not such a great idea after a night of carousing. Spent much time in bathroom flying to St Louis — yuck!

    • Anonymous

      Provolone? I’m not sure if I can talk to you. I didn’t realize you were all fancy and classy like that. I need whiz. And it sat in belly the whole car ride home.

  • Scargosun

    Let me know when you are coming. I will go to Geno’s and get one and you can do a taste test. :)

    • Anonymous

      Would LOVE a taste test. What’s your preference?

  • Paige Puckett

    I got a big grin as you describe yourself ordering. Great story! You make me want to travel… and eat lots of cheesesteak… and I don’t even like cheesesteak.

    • Anonymous

      You don’t like cheesesteak because you haven’t had Pat’s Cheesesteak. Stick with me, kid. I only eat yummy foods as a rule.

  • Lolli

    I love witty restaurant signs like that. Only problem is now I want a cheesesteak. I’m ready for a roadtrip. Wanna meet? 😉

    • Anonymous

      I did bring my husband a sandwich home (I have a mini-fridge in my car). Then he had to make a quick trip to NJ after I got back. On the way home, he almost seriously detoured through Philly just to get more sandwiches.

  • Kris

    In my entire life, I have never ordered a Cheesesteak.

    Do they even sell them in Oregon?

    They look yummy.

    I will have to research this and get back to you.

    • Anonymous

      If you research it and find something that looks like the picture at the top, then just forget it. It’s not the same.

  • Rachel- Mommy Needs a Vacation

    You are so funny! I am so glad you went with Pat’s. Opinion based solely on the way the building looked! I like local and nothing fancy! It looks like it would be on Guy’s Drivers, Diners and Dives!! LOVE it!

    • Anonymous

      You know, apparently the Geno’s vs. Pat’s controversy was on the Food Network. I wouldn’t be surprised if Guy checked it out. Love his show (and most of the food).

  • Adventuroo

    I love the “wit” and “wit-out.” Man, I love trying to local specialty and I’m a sucker for cheesesteaks! A trip to Philly is in my future!

    • Anonymous

      So, so good. Now if only we can find pockets of goodness like that in Raleigh…

  • The Grasshoppa

    I’d happily drive all the world taste testing pizza or coffee. The Gino’s cheese steak was okay, but it didn’t knock my socks off :)

    • Anonymous

      I see your problem: Geno’s. I can’t vouch for their sandwich. I can only vouch for the delicious goodness I have pictured above. As for pizza? I’m very particular about it – particularly the sauce and cheese. Coffee? Gross.

  • Temysmom

    I went to college in Philly and you brought back memories of midnight runs to Pat’s for cheesesteaks. Honestly, I wouldn’t even know how many I consumed in my 4 years there but I’m pretty sure that’s why I ended up about 40 pounds heavier when I graduated.

    • Anonymous

      40 pounds, huh? On the drive home to NC, I was actually doing math problems in my head trying to figure out how many cheesesteaks it would take and how many years to gain 40 pounds. Now I have my answer 😉

      It was worth every bite though, wasn’t it?

  • Melisa

    That’s the thing about us petite framed women…we love our food and can devour it like no one’s business!

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