April 20th, 2012 by Brian Schwartz – Comments (15)
I’ve been to Philadelphia. I saw the Liberty Bell on a school trip, and the grand old buildings nearby. But my visit to Independence Hall didn’t include a taste of that brash, sassy icon of America’s culinary independence, the Philly cheesesteak. So I don’t know if what I had at Phat Philly’s last night was a new kind of cheesesteak so awesome that people in Philly should sit up and take notice, or merely a wannabe they’d scoff at. Anyway, I thought it was darn good. And in any case, as the New York Times once stated, “the cheese steak may not be a proper subject for aesthetic analysis. Because when you think about it, a good cheese steak defies all the rules of good cooking. Overdone meat, bad bread, liquid cheese! It’s the General Tso’s Chicken of sandwiches.”
Defies the rules, and triumphs. Loyal Philadelphians have been flocking to their steak stands ever since that day in the early 1930s when a guy named Pat Olivieri sliced a steak and threw it on the griddle, mixed in onions and sold it as a sandwich. Pat’s cheesesteak shop (and its arch-rival Geno’s) is still around down by Passyunk Avenue in south Philly. In Tulsa, cheesesteaks began with a little downtown shack called Phat Philly’s. It opened about 5 years ago, and when it closed last year grown men cried. Now it’s back.
Bright, airy, and right near Cherry Street. They even serve beer now. You can get great brews like Marshall’s IPA on tap. But I’m not here for the beer. So I head for the counter.
This is where the magic is done. So I proudly order the way I read it’s done in Philly. “One Whiz wit!” At Pat’s in Philly, that means one cheesesteak made with Cheez Whiz, with onions. (Yes, Cheez Whiz. That’s the Philly tradition and critics agree that’s what tastes best, though some holdouts argue for Provolone.) They look at me as if I had ordered in Chinese. Except for one guy, he knows what I’m talking about. I think he’s the boss. “We do an Okie take on cheesesteak,” he says. For instance, he says, they use a slightly softer roll than Philadelphia’s Amoroso’s Bakery bakes for Pat’s. But they do use the traditional Cheez Whiz, though they call it “cheddar”. You can get Jack cheese instead, or, for a small fee, lots of extra toppings. You can get burgers, a vegetarian sandwich, and even chicken cheesesteak. But I went with tradition. And out it came.
Let me say that the waffle fries were great. I tasted one as I unwrapped my sandwich ($12, smaller version for around $7 available). And here it is.
Oh it was delicious! I couldn’t see the Whiz and I even asked if they had forgot to put it in. But it had melted in, blended with the hacked sirloin and onions to form a rich, marvelous creation, bursting with meat flavor made rich by browning, made even deeper by the processed cheese. It was the sort of flavor you’d hope to get if you ordered slow-braised short ribs in a restaurant where they spent 12 hours simmering them to perfection. And yet this gooey goodness was obtained after only 5 minutes on the griddle.
Now here’s where Tulsa’s own Phat Philly’s improves on Pat’s version. At Pat’s and Geno’s, as far as I know, they cook the meat (and have much longer slices) and then put it on the bread, and then, after the sandwich is ready, they put the Cheez Whiz on top. You can see it as a separate layer in this photo of a Pat’s sandwich.
But they do things differently here on Cherry Street. They spread the Cheez Whiz on the bun. Then they push the bun down on the meat as the meat is still cooking on the griddle. Then they take the bun off and splop more cheese on the cooking meat and push the cheese in. The result is this.
The cheese cooks into the meat. And it tastes better! Hey Philadelphia, check it out!
1305 S Peoria
Open from 10 AM to 10 PM Monday through Thursday, and to 4 AM Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday
http://www.phatphillys.com (website under construction)
Brian Schwartz: Author
Born in NYC, age 0, on my birthday. College in Oxford at age 16. Law School in New Haven, Conn. 6 years travel in Africa and Asia. Haven’t done much lately. Still, I’m the only Tulsa member of the little-known Omega Society. www.theomegasociety.com
I speak enough Chinese to order food not on any English menu. Spanish French Italian too (not fluently but food-ently) My favorite restaurant is Jean-Georges in New York. But those NYC chefs would sell their soul to get the produce available from the farms around Inola.
“A writer writes alone. His words tumble forth from a magical inner void that is mysterious even to himself, and that no one else can enter.” And yet, the most important thing to me the writer is YOU. Without you to hear them, my words are worth less than silence.