PHILADELPHIA: SMITH & WOLLENSKY,PAT & GENO, STAN & LISA
It was as I drained the last of my second powerful Martini and scraped the last of the flesh from an decent T-bone that I first began to talk to Stan & Lisa
Regulars to the bar at Smith & Wollensky and just out for a quiet drink and a bite to eat, they began by asking me where I was from and what I was doing in Philadelphia.
The moment I told them about EAT MY GLOBE, their eyes lit up and they said “ well, you are going to have a Philly Cheese Steak aren’t you?”
Well, of course I was. It was the main reason I had come into town in the first place. I mean, they may be proud of The Hoagie in Philadelphia and soft pretzels may have a special place in their hearts, but they are hardly the first things that come into people’s minds when you ask them about Philly and food.
It is The Philly Cheese Steak, that heart frightening combination of bread, meat onions and melted cheese that really gets this city talking and arguning about which one of two legendary outfits in South Philly makes the best example
By the time they had treated me to my third worryingly strong Martini, Stan & Lisa had decided not only to give me instructions in how to order a Cheese steak but also to take me all the way down there themselves to make sure I did not screw it up.
So, I staggered to their waiting convertible and we set off through the streets of South Philadelphia to the intersection which houses the two rival factions fighting for turf in the Cheese Steak wars.
The original was created by Pat Oliveri in the 1930’s when, so the story goes, he made a lunch for himself from Italian bread filled with sliced rib eye, cheese and onions and then sold it to a passing cabby who then brought back his friends to try the delicious new creation.
In 1966, a new rival opened opposite and the rivalry between Geno’s and Pat’s began and continue to this day.
Stan was a relatively recent convert to Geno’s but now swears by them and , after parking the car, they had me stand in line at the “newcomer’s” place with strict instructions about how to order.
“two whiz with, one whiz with, handicapped”
Apparently, that means two sandwiches with Cheese whiz (the other less purist choices being Provolone or American) and another handicapped, or cut in half.
The sandwiches appeared in about three seconds and I moved to the next counter to pick up some cheese fries before helping myself to some mustard and Geno’s fiery hot sauce.
Unfortunately, the hot sauce almost blew my head off and knocked out my tastebuds so I could not really enjoy the first half of the sandwich, but by the time my eyes had stopped watering and my mouth settled down I was able to enjoy the second half and see what all the fuss is about.
It is a glorious mish mash mess of a meal and the individual ingredients may not promise much but combine to make an addictive whole that made me want to eat another one right there and right then.
As Stan explained, they may make these elsewhere in the country, but they never taste the same. The reason being, he suggested, that the bread made locally can never be recreated elsewhere.
I don’t know true this is, but sitting at a roadside table licking my fingers clean, I can understand why people from Philadelphia dream of these things
After my second meal of the evening, Stan & Lisa drove me all the way across town to my hotel in one of those overwhelming displays of hospitality that have become all too regular on this trip.
I stumbled into bed and fell asleep immediately. I am not ashamed to admit that I had a dream about eating another Philly Cheese steak.