A Tale of Two Phillys
Some places never leave you. I am proud to call Chicago my home and I will defend it against any city in the country. Yet a part of me, some vile, diseased, aggressive speck of my heart still calls itself a Philadelphian. I can fight it, I can ignore it, but I’ll be the first one to cheer if someone throws a battery at a visiting team’s fan section. I can’t help myself; the City of Brotherly Love has forever seared its mark into my ribcage. I was personally part of a crowd that booed Destiny’s Child at a 76ers playoff game. And did my father, who was in the seat next to me, stop me? He laughed and booed along, then said, “do they have any idea what city they’re in?”
I need to get back to my roots, even if they are roots I’ve tried so desperately to excavate from the earth. You see, I’m embarking on a citywide search. It seems that some regions or cities have a food for which they are famous. Chicago has its hot dog and deep dish and they are done to perfection, but I want to know if this city can make a Philly cheese steak. I need to know. I keep seeing the signs, the ones that advertise not a cheese steak, but a PHILLY cheese steak. I’ve scoffed at them for a year but maybe that isn’t fair. What would Galileo do? Certainly not sit back and make idle judgment; he would do experiments and observe. Do I think I am better than Galileo? Certainly not when it comes to food.
So excuse me, for just a minute. Giants and Redskins fans, feel free to stop reading now. Cowboys fans can do whatever they want; they can’t read anyway. I’m off to try as many cheese steaks, excuse me, Philly cheese steaks, as I can. Hopefully I will have some hometown adventures along the way and discover some new and delicious restaurants.
My first stop in this journey was to Philly’s Best. I visited the location near the Belmont Red Line, but they have three other shops. I spent my first year in the city on Halsted and Clark, so it is some blue wonder that I had never ventured inside until now. The sign on the door proclaimed, “Welcome to Philadelphia.” They offer “soda, not pop,” and their pitch to get you to order online goes, “we never want to talk to you again.” Feels just like home.
Oh Chicago! If you only knew! Shipped directly from Pennsylvania were two of my favorite lunchtime desserts, Tastykakes and Herr’s chips. Try to find them elsewhere in the Midwest. I got myself a package of the butterscotch krimpets, but don’t miss the peanut butter chocolate ones either. The Herr’s chips (slogan: make Herr’s yours) came plain only but it was more than enough for me. I wanted to see what they would give me if I said only, “I want a Philly cheese steak,” so I said that and nothing more. What I got was a very well done sandwich with chipped steak, fried onions, and white American cheese.
Philly’s Best does offer cheez wiz, and it would be nice if it was the default, but I still found the sandwich, and entire meal, delicious. I was Odysseus, back in my native Ithaca, disguised in the veils of my new life, and only my trusted dog, Argos, could recognize me. This is an extended metaphor, but I think the dog is the part that relates to the sandwich. I am not going to stop here, however. I am going to keep looking to seek out every restaurant that sells something closely resembling a true Philly cheese steak. I’ll leave out the bad ones but will make sure to keep you in the loop about the good ones. While you wait, check out Philly’s Best, either on Belmont or at any of their other three locations. You don’t have to like the Flyers or the Eagles to enjoy our cuisine, but it is much safer to do it here, 700 miles away from the epicenter.