I’m in Philly for the weekend, determined to prove I can have a great time by spending the least amount of cash possible –– $100 or less.
So far, so awesome. I’ve taken advantage of just about every free attraction the city has to offer, paid next to nothing to get around thanks to my new favourite app SideCar, and managed to find a wealth of cheap eats with help from BI readers and some friendly locals.
But as of this morning I had yet to conquer the challenge that faces every first-time Philly visitor –– finding the perfect Philly cheesesteak.
Little did I know, I’d find it in the last place I’d ever guess.
Everyone (and I mean everyone) who has been to Philly or lived in Philly or simply heard of Philly has an opinion on which of the two leading cheesesteak rivals –– Pat's and Geno's –– is best.
I tried polling Twitterers to get a sense of which was more popular. It was like listening to fans battle over their favourite football team.
@mandiwoodruff I promise if you go to Geno's it'll be so good you'll take the wrapper home with you
-- CoursenSecurityGroup (@CoursenSecurity) May 19, 2013
@mandiwoodruff was out there a couple weeks ago... Geno's and all the other places were horrid... We have better street meat here
-- Drew Brenner (@owndjoo852) May 19, 2013
To be honest, I swung by both Pat's and Geno's Saturday night. Between the Vegas Strip lighting situation and mile-long lines, I lost my appetite altogether.
I only had limited funds to use, so I decided to start fresh and go off the beaten trail. I started with Jim's Steaks on S. 4th Street, one of my host's favourite spots.
The long lines made me second guess myself. If anything, travelling has taught me time and again that tourist traps rarely live up to the hype.
Like any dive, the wall was peppered with framed accolades and signed photos of celebs stuffing their faces and calling Jim's the greatest thing since sliced beef.
The cook was working the crowd like a pro. It smelled excellent. I started to get hopeful...and hungry.
I ordered the classic cheesesteak with provolone and peppers. It looked amazing and at $8.75, it wasn't too expensive.
Utter. Disappointment. It tasted like a bad cafeteria sandwich. The bread was chewy, the meat was dry, and the whole thing (for some reason) was so luke warm my cheese hadn't even melted all the way.
So I struck out once. It was time to go across the street to Ishkabibbles Eatery, which, according to its sign, had created the first chicken cheesesteak.
But chicken wasn't on my menu. I sidled up to the street-side counter and ordered a Philly with provolone and grilled onions.
The place is super tiny and no frills –– exactly like the dives I love back home in my neighbourhood in Queens.
Straight off the bat, I knew I made the right choice. It smelled like it was worth the $8.50 I shelled out for it and then some.
Just as melty as I could hope for. The meat was juicy, the bread actually tasted fine on its own, and the cheese was on point.
The next joint on my list was well-known Tony Luke's in South Philly, which a bunch of locals recommended. But I was running short on time (and stomach space), so I decided to take a gamble and skip it.
A tip from a local friend brought me to this no-name neighbourhood in deep South Philly. Even my SideCar driver didn't know where he was.
Finally, we arrived. It was nothing more than a corner store in the middle of nowhere. My driver gave me a funny look and left me on the stoop.
A lone cook was working a small grill in the back. It must have been 1,000 degrees back there at least.
Dubious, I put in my order and watched. In the 5 minutes I waited, it was like the entire neighbourhood had streamed in to pick up orders.
I'm no Philly native, but this was just about as close as I'd come to perfection all day long. It doesn't look like much, but trust me, it had more flavour than Jim's and Ishkabibbles put together.
Don't want to take my word for it? You shouldn't. Part of the fun of visiting Philly is eating your way around until you find the right spot for yourself. I know I'm going to get hate mail for skipping some fan favourites, but there's no need –– there's always next time, Philly.
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