In Philadelphia for the first time, and by myself as well. Without the spouse to influence my decisions, I thought I'd check out their reputation as the "best city in America to eat a sandwich."
I started at Dalessandro's (600 Wendover Street, https://dalessandros.com/). I was there at 10:55 (they open at 11) and I was the first to arrive. By 11 AM there were 10 people in line behind me. At 11:05, all 15+ seats inside were taken, as well as the 2 picnic tables outside (it was 40 degrees); and it was standing room only inside with those placing to-go orders. A popular lunch spot, but they obviously know there isn’t much point in getting there too early. I ordered the Cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and fried onions. Came very quickly, and I noticed it included a fork. Why would soon be obvious. You tended to lose onions and even some of the cheesy meat filling in trying to eat this big gooey mess on a bun. But it was tasty, that is for sure. The Cheese Whiz melted into a nice runny consistency that soaked almost completely into the meat. (I might try extra cheese next time.) Unfortunately that meant it would also drip off the sandwich, but hey, that’s just nit-picking. Overall this was pretty much tasty goodness. The Cheese Whiz added a salty tang and that made the meal. And it was pretty uniformly distributed so almost everybody had the same deliciousness. The sweet fried onions were fine, but I’m not sure they really added much. Perhaps were optional. Around me I saw all sorts of variations: mushrooms, peppers ( sweet and spicy ) people adding hot sauce, pickles. One man even put ketchup on his, like you would a cheese burger, I guess. Another ordered his “hoagie” style, which meant it came with raw onion, tomato and shredded lettuce. I didn’t see how he ate that, but it looked like it would be pretty messy, stacking all that on an already full bun.
Next up was Sonny’s (228 Market St, https://www.sonnyscheesesteaks.com/ ). I was staying near here so it was easy walking. This time went at 7PM for dinner. Place was about 1/3 full. The staff wasn’t particularly friendly even though they weren’t under a lot of pressure, but they weren’t mean either. Just neutral I guess. This time tried the cheesesteak with provolone and onions. The change in cheese made a real difference. It got soft, but never got runny like the Cheese Whiz. So it just stayed put on top of the meat. This meant that you didn’t always get a lot of cheese in a bite and the bites that didn’t have much cheese were not as interesting to me. The beef wasn’t bad, but I prefer the combination of meat with the cheese. Another comment, the provolone they use is fairly sharp and pungent. If mild provolone is your thing, this might not be for you.
Because I’m not a huge sharp provolone fan, I thought it best to try one with American. So next time, back to Sonny’s – it was close by afterall. This time with American (and the onions too). Went for double cheese to try to solve that issue of it not soaking completely into the meat. Didn’t work. As usual, got nice and soft but certainly not runny. A new issue came up. Somehow in the cooking and loading the bread process all the cheese ended up on one half of the sandwich. So you could say that half had “quadruple cheese?” And the other half, of course, had none. The cheesy half was pretty darn good, and the other half was pretty boring comparatively. Decent beefy flavor, but not the mix of flavors I was going for.
Results: Best Cheese Steak of the trip: Dalessandro's with Cheese Whiz. I don’t know if it was the venue (recipe, style, technique, etc.) or the Cheese Whiz or both, but it was a good sandwich. Any future cheese steak sandwiches will be with the Whiz for me (regardless of vendor).
Next on the list was Roast Pork – Philly’s other famous hot sandwich. Not in town long enough to do an extensive study but I figure I had to try at least one. I ended up at DiNic's in the Reading Terminal Market. ( 1136 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA, http://tommydinics.com/ ), again because I could easily walk there. (Quick aside, if you are in town, you must do lunch here. This is an amazing food court with quite the selection. https://readingterminalmarket.org/ ) DiNic’s has numerous sandwiches on the menu, but roast pork was the mission. I had it with provolone (again, sharp) and cooked broccoli rabe, which seems to be a standard combo (cooked spinach is also popular). This may also be trademark sandwich for the city, but it didn’t really do it for me. I found the pork to be very bland, the provolone to be very pungent and the broccoli rabe to be very bitter. I just found it to be “OK,” not something I need to order again. However, the brisket sandwich the guy next to me was eating looked amazing. Next time….
Philly is also famous for a cold sandwich, the Hoagie. So it was time to try one of them too. Again, no time to do a thorough investigation, but I had to have one. Also within an easy walk for me was Campo’s (214 Market St, http://camposdeli.com/ ). I walked in (dinner time) and the place was almost empty. Only 3 other people. The staff was extremely friendly and really took the time to talk to you and tried to get to know you. Here I ordered the “Mamma Mia” which came with Proscuitto, Sopressata, Capicolla, Provolone, Hot & Sweet peppers, onions, lettuce, tomato, olive oil and hot pepper oil and a sprinkle of oregano. I chose the mix of sharp and mild provolone because the man behind the counter insisted that I would like their sharp but I didn’t want to risk going all the way on that. I also got the last “seedy” bun of the day, which he also highly recommended. This was an amazing sandwich to behold. The contents were literally exploding out of the bun. I knew there was no way he could fold that sandwich closed and have it stay that way, and I was right. It was impossible to hold it and take a bite without the contents squishing out the side of the bun, which made it a challenge. But I certainly did my best. One of the best hoagie’s I’ve ever had, no doubt about it. The cheese flavor integrated well with the meat and spice of the hot peppers and hot oil. While not too hot, there was definitely a warming effect in my mouth that made that beer go down nicely. Definitely worth it.
First time in a long time I’ve been to a city and didn’t try any fancy restaurants! But all this research and experimentation made it worthwhile to skip them this trip. Maybe next time; but there are definitely sandwiches worth eating in Philly!