I went to Philly for the cheesesteak.
No, really, I did.
Well, to anyone who knows me, going somewhere just to eat something wouldn’t seem silly at all. My love affair with food is almost as critical as my love affair with travel. Almost.
After all the talk of the rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s, and the testaments from die-hard Philadelphians, what more could I do than visit and eat for myself?
We drove into the city at midday. The skies were gray and the weather was crisp, not a particularly beautiful day at all. As we parked across from Pat’s King of Steaks, our first stop on the cheesesteak tour, Eagles fans sat eating, jerseys donned, and heckling the Green Bay fans that were in town for the game. This felt like a cool place to be.
As we stood in line, salivating for our next meal as the smell of steak wafted from the building, I practiced what I would say to the man that would take my order. Yes, there is a protocol for ordering a cheesesteak, and you aren’t to mess it up. I would really have hated to look uncool here. I was ready, I had it down: I wanted a “Cheese Wit” meaning I would receive my cheesesteak with onions.
Whew, I passed. I ordered flawlessly and could quite possibly have tricked the gentleman into thinking I could have been a local (my ultimate goal in my travels). Ordinarily, this sandwich is not to be shared, but since we had a date with Geno’s across the street immediately following this, we decided to split it. Sigh. Let me take a deep breath before explaining the beauty of this sandwich…*Inhale*…it was AMAZING. The sandwich was so hot that I had to suck in just to get enough air to cool down my mouth, but that didn’t stop me. The cheese and the lightly grilled onions fused exquisitely with the perfectly seasoned, thinly sliced and chopped steak. I have never experienced Cheez-Whiz used to its full potential quite like this. I realized in that moment, that I had never really had a cheesesteak before today. It was my first time.
I felt unfaithful as we snuck over to Geno’s to see which was really better, but after Pat’s dazzled me so, anything else would have to be nothing short of incredible. I tried to keep an open mind.
We stood in line, surveyed the scene, and discovered that of course, and in true rival fashion, Geno’s had their own ordering guidelines. This time I’d have to ask for a “Whiz Wit” to get the same sandwich. We split the sandwich in half as before and I took the first wary bite. Hmm. Maybe a second bite would give me a better feel for the sandwich. They were definitely different. Geno’s meat was in slices rather than being chopped up, and there was a distinct taste of mustard in the sandwich. It was good, but it was no Pat’s (sorry Geno’s lovers). I felt unfulfilled and my despair sent me running back into the arms of Pat’s.
I had to have another sandwich.
I wasn’t sure how the gentleman at the window would feel, if he would know that I had been to Geno’s, smell the shame of another steak on me. I thought it best to come clean. I told him of my infidelity and how after it all, I knew that his were the better steaks. He forgave me and was happy I had come to my senses. I was happy too.
It was difficult to leave Pat’s and I knew he couldn’t come with me. Ours was a love affair that was born and would be nurtured only in Philly, so I would have to return.
We headed for Independence Square to add a little history into our day, and at least have something to say we did in Philadelphia besides eat cheesesteak. We stood in front of Independence Hall, the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed. Sometimes it is truly incredible to stand in a place and imagine all that occurred before you, right in that very location. It was especially interesting to be here as we had just seen the actual, original Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda of the National Archives in D.C. We crossed the street to the small building that houses the Liberty Bell. There is a miniature museum of sorts, and the Bell sits at the back, a glass wall behind it, looking out on Independence Hall. It was like we were playing connect the dots with American History, and the picture was starting to become clear. Well, we saw the Rocky statue, and then it was complete.
As we drove out of Philly, bellies and minds fulfilled, I could smell the cheesesteak still on me, and I dreamed of when I’d be back to have Pat’s once more…
I went to Philly for the cheesesteak.