Sunday, October 18, 2009

My Trip-Philly Cheese Steaks

After leaving DC we traveled to George Washington's Mount Vernon along with his grist mill and distillery. During his final year of life, George Washington was the country's leading producer of whisky and one of the foremost millers in Virginia which is a fact that is quite amazing given the modest size of his distillery. Nearby we drove by Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House and snapped a couple of photos before soldiering on towards Gettysburg, PA. Once we arrived at Gettysburg we purchased cds that would take us on a self guided, driving tour of the large area that encompasses the National Park. Dad and I rounded out the day with dinner at Phil's Tavern where we ate a couple of phenomenal hamburgers.

The next day we made a quick stop at Valley Forge where we saw deer grazing in such a manor we at first thought they were part of an "attraction" or placed there somehow as an exhibit. We soon realized that they must of roamed over from the nearby forest. The deer only added to the picturesque beauty of the land there. I quickly fell in love with an area near General Washington's headquarters. I soon found myself wandering through the grassy landscape, picking up acorns, buckeyes and autumnal leaves of red and gold.

By mid-morning we were deep in the heart of Philadelphia. After visiting the Liberty Bell and a brief tour of Independence Hall we decided to hoof it over to South Philly at the intersection of 9th and Passyunk...the home of Geno's Steaks and Pat's King of Steaks. As we passed by the old city hospital, row houses and walk ups, the scenery slowly turned from drab urban, utilitarian to colorful and ethnic. We had entered "Little Italy". The wonderful aroma wafted through the air as we strolled by the Italian open air market, bistros and restaurants, and best of all the delis and groceries. At one little deli called DiBruno Brothers we stopped in to pick up some Soppressata and provolone that would later become our dinner. The amazing smell still taunts me, creating cravings out of the phantom scents of pepperoni and Caprese salad.

Once leaving we continued on down the street until the garish orange glow of Geno's Steaks entered our line of vision. I made my way over to set of tables on the side of the building, away from the bustle near the order window. I sat with my back towards the street while Dad went to order our sandwich. As I was waiting I noticed a large, black SUV with darkly tinted windows and one of the largest men I had even seen guarding it. As a result of spending too much time watching The Sopranos, my first instinct was Mafia. I figured this was some foot-solider waiting for his boss to exit from the back of Geno's where he had surely just performed a shakedown or committed some kind of cheesesteak related felony. A few moments later that back door opened and out stepped a man in a brown bomber jacket with dark, curly hair. He looked like a Craggy-faced Billy Crystal. When a couple at a nearby table scrambled up to him and asked the large man to take their picture I realized the man in the bomber jacket didn't just look like Billy Crystal but it was Mr. Saturday Night himself! Racing for my camera I managed to get one shot of the bodyguard's back as he was snapping a picture for the couple, and another shot of Billy's back as he walked around the car. As the couple who had just shared a photo-op with Mr. Crystal walked by, I gave the smiling woman a look that conveyed "hmmm, pretty cool huh?" and she replied by telling me that they had been waiting since they saw him walk in a half and hour earlier. Dad ambled back towards the table just in time for me to frantically tell him who was inside the black SUV that was driving down the street. The moment passed and it was on to more important

The cheese steak that sat before us was about 8 inches in length and layered with thinly sliced steak, onions and a healthy smattering of cheese-whiz (the traditional cheese of the Philly Cheese steak). Upon first bite the juices dripped down my hand and my mouth was filled with the tender, gooey goodness of the sandwich. I never liked Cheese Whiz alone, but somehow when combined with paper thin ribeye and the Amoroso roll, it is a most splendid concoction. It was a taste you will never get from a cheese steak at Chilis or TGI Fridays, that's for sure. We quickly finished our sandwich and fries, gulped down our Pepsi and Birch Beer and crossed the street to Pat's King of Steaks.

As we waited in line we noticed a sign listing the rules for ordering a sandwich there. These rules tell you to specify if you want your steak "wit" or "wit-out" (onions or no onions) and what type of cheese you want; whiz, provolone, American, or Swiss. The sign also mentions that if you panic and forget how to order, not to worry because you can always go to the back of the line and start over! Since we had our sandwich with whiz at Geno's, we decided on a "wit, provolone" cheese steak at Pat's, which I ended up regretting since I liked the whiz so much. Trying to decide which was better we savored each bite, pontificating on the quality of bread, chopped meat versus sliced, whiz vs. provolone. Eventually we both came to the conclusion that we preferred Geno's over Pat's.

Before leaving South Philly to head back to the touristy, historical district we made one last culinary stop. A little bakery down Passyunk Avenue called Iannelli's called out to us in an almost primal way. We asked them to fill a couple of cannoli shells and took them to go, the place we took them "to go" turned out to be the sidewalk in front of the bakery. In a few swift bites we devoured those little confections from heaven and lamented on their transcendent decadence.

Soon we spotted a taxi and had it take us back to the Historic District where we took a quick tour of the US Mint, walked by Betsy Ross's house (it was closed to tours on that day), visited the old Christ Church and strolled down the adorable Elfreth's Alley. Before leaving Philly for good we had one last destination that we refused to bypass...the "Rocky Steps". After exiting a large round-about we parked in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since I had no immediate plans to fight Apollo Creed or Mr. T, I told Dad that there was no way I was climbing those things but would be happy to stand at their base and film him jogging up them. He also turned down that daunting prospect and opted instead to take a couple of quick pictures of them.

As we made our way through Monday rush hour in Philadelphia on our way out of town we were graced with a picture perfect parting glance. William Penn's bronze statue atop City Hall stood in the distance as we drove out of Philly and on to our next adventure.

Philly Cheese Steaks

1 pound Rib Eye,sliced very thin (1/8 of inch or less)
1 medium Onion, sliced
1 loaf French or Italian Bread (divided into 3 or 4 portions and sliced down middle)
6 Tablespoons Olive Oil or Soya Oil
Cheese Whiz

In a cast iron skillet or saute pan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onions until cooked through (or desired doneness). Remove them from pan and set aside. Pour the remaining 3tablespoons of olive oil on medium high heat, place meat in pan and divide into 3 or 4 portions, lying the pieces flat and overlapping to form a shape that will fit nicely in a bun. Flip meat over halfway through cooking (meat will look slightly gray in color). Return the onions (in correlating portions to the amount of meat) back into the pan, resting next to the meat and allow to reheat.

If you want warm bread (I suggest not toasting it, but simply warming it) heat your oven on 200 degrees for 5 minutes and then turn off. Place bread halves in oven (on a cookie sheet) for 3-5 minutes.
Warm the Cheese Whiz in the microwave (about 30 seconds for every 1/2 a cup), stirring halfway through.
Pick up meat with a spatula and deposit on the roll. Using a butter knife, spread Cheese Whiz next to the meat.

Push the meat on one side of the roll and lay onions next to it, not on top of it. You should get meat, toppings and cheese in every bite.

Deer at Valley Forge


Independence Hall

Billy Crystal walking away

"Leave the gun..."

The "Rocky Steps"


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