Cheesesteak Controversy…..Geno’s or Pat’s?
I went and visited an old friend today for lunch who runs a small take-out joint called the “A Taste of Philly” in Largo, Florida. He has the reputation of some of the finest selections of tasty morsels south of Broad Street in Philadelphia. The guy imports all of his bakery goods straight from the City of Brotherly Love daily, and you can’t fight the quality of his fare. They are all three napkins worthy!
So I came upon the idea that maybe we need to vent the Philly fans attention another direction for a few days and give them something to debate before the beginning of the World Series on Wednesday night. I decided maybe we need to try the virtues of two of Philly’s biggest sandwich icons and decide once and for all………
Who is KING of the Cheesesteaks according to people around the country and not just from Philly. So I decided to just throw my personal opinions and comments out here along with a little history about each place and let the ball fall and see who picks it up and runs with it. Seriously, everyone knows that people in the town have an opinion on their particular favorite cheesesteak hangout. So without further ado, Let’s Get it on!
In the Orange corner wearing multi-colored neon boxing shorts and fighting for his creation firmly mounted on the corner of 9th and Passyunk, we have Joey Vento’s and his monster creation….GENO’s. There is a really funny story on how Vento came up with the name for his place back in 1966. With a Joe’s Steak Place already situated within the city limits of South Philly, Vento was perplexed on a name for his new place.
Well, some local kid named Gino had spray painted his name on the back door of the new place and Vento saw it and knowing that there was a local well-to-do chain store with the same name, just put a couple lines on the “GINO” painted on his back door and “GENO’s was born. the biggest thing you need to get used to if you ever order at Geno’s is to have your order ready at the first window before you even utter a word. There is actually an art to ordering what kind of cheese,or onions you want on your thin-cut steaming ribeye cheesesteak.
If you fail to order within a certain time limit, you can be sure the people in line behind you will give you a shout or two to let you know what they think. And that is something this town was built on Freedom of speech. And let me tell you, this is one of the places in town you will talk about for years just for the ordering experience. And considering all of this was started back in 1966 with only two boxes of ribeyes, some hot dogs, and a total of $6 in Vento’s pockets. Simply fantastic.
And the fact the counter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and fills the air with the awesome aromas of onions,and sizzling steak just makes you wander towards the counter. I am not going to give a review of Geno’s right now before I introduce our second challenger to the fray. And he is another heavyweight in the fight to fill Philly fans bellies late into the night, and early mornings.
In the Blue corner fighting from the opposite corner of the intersection is Pat’s, King of Steaks, which is not as brightly set in neon lights as Geno’s, but still is the rave for cheesesteaks in the city. Between the two establishments there is always a line at certain times of the day. Pat’s actually was founded about 36 years before Geno’s back in 1930. Back then it was a modest hot dog emporium at the base of the famous Italian Market in South Philly.
One day Pat decided to try something different for that days lunch crowd. So he had some one go get some chopped meat at the local butcher shop and grilled it up on his flat top where he usually cooked his hot dogs. He went next door to the Italian Market and got some fresh sandwich rolls and placed the steamed meat on the bun along with some onions.
Just as Pat was about to sample his new invention, a Philly cabbie on his usual lunch break asked what Pat was eating. After a short bit of chatter, Pat decided to make one of the new creations for his cabbie friend. Pat cooked him up one of the sandwiches and after the first bite the cabbie proclaimed to Pat, “Hey, forget ’bout those hot dogs, you should sell these.” And a momentary change in his lunch option, and the World Famous South Philly steak sandwich was born.
Over the years, people wanted a bit of change, hence the addition of cheese to the sandwich. At both locations there is a huge amount of history and celebrity that focus attention to both eateries, but one of the great adventures of ordering your sandwich at Pat’s can be the highlight of your pre-sandwich meal.
It is not uncommon for the counter person to ask someone to go to the end of the line if they stutter or can not get the order done in a timely fashion. Returning patrons can be picked out of the crowd easy by their ease at throwing out what they want on their cheesesteaks in a micro of seconds. There is even a sign posted before the counter window to help ease you into the “Pat’s Way” of ordering and getting you food as quick as possible.
I have to say, the first time I went there I did not have to go to the back of the line, but they knew I was from the South. Maybe my Tampa Bay cap gave me away. Anyways I have to give a slight nod even before tasting either sandwich to Pat’s because they serve Pepsi products. See even in my time away from the job I still value my sodas. But both places did serve Dr. Pepper, so the scale went even again.
Another tipping point that might have pushed me in a certain direction might be the fact that at Pat’s you can eat on premises. But this was not a deciding factor if you like people watching and also enjoy the crisp, chill in the October air in Philly. Eating al fresco at Geno’s is not like sitting at a street side Cafe’ in Paris, but you can see and hear everything that is happening around you at both steak institutions.
No matter which of the two competing places you savor when you come to Philly, the leading factor to coming down to Passyunk has to be to eat one of the creations that has be associated with this city for so long. Doesn’t matter if you like your cheesesteak loaded with Cheez Wiz like at Pat’s or can choose your artery clogging cheese selection like Geno’s. The basic fact that you enjoy a well made sandwich should be enough right?
Okay. I get it, you want a winner. That is so American of you (lol). I am actually going to break this down into points of yummy to consider a winner here.
***** Geno’s might be the only restaurant in South Philly you can see from Space. Pat’s is sometimes blurred by the amount of people standing outside still at 2 am.
]***** Pat’s counter people make even ordering a sandwich an experience. With the helpful signage and some of the crowd helping you so you can also have a fast experience without going to the back of the line. Geno’s can be testy too, but part of the Pat’s experience is just their ordering process.
***** Because of their extra selections of types of cheese (Cheez Wiz,American, Provolone Cheese) plus the condiments like ketchup,mustard,relish and Geno’s own hot sauce, it give you extra options for your food.
Pat’s offers the same outside condiments, but for some reason, the cheese selection just let everyone have it their way.
***** And last, but not least is the atmosphere around both places. I have to say I have been to both at different times of the season, and this one might come down to what makes you personally comfortable at the time. Geno’s does have that neighborhood joint feel to the place and with everyone outside eating and talking it creates a buzz in the air. Pat’s was my haven last October when the chilling rain and the wild breezes swept through the Philly streets and eating facing the wind was not a pleasant option. Thank you south side tables.
ADVANTAGE: Geno’s & Pat’s
So, based on the about yummy points you might think it is solely Geno’s to lose for my ultimate winner. Well, if you think that, then you do not know me very well. I actually found both places to have their own signature differences that could have taken me towards either side of the street for a winner.
But in the end, it is ultimately a personal decision, and one I can not make for you. But I do have to add that both places have a huge bit of history and personality to them from ordering to sampling either of their fares. The true winner of this is the citizens of Philadelphia. Not just do they have multiple choices around the city, but every large city in the US has a Philly-branded eatery in which they offer their own take on the classic steak sandwich.
It doesn’t matter if you like it with Whiz, onions or just with cooked peppers, the choice is all yours. Even take it Italian and add a bit of marinara sauce to explode the taste buds another direction. We are all thankful to the City of Brotherly Love, and especially to two well-known and loved steak emporiums within cheesesteak tossing distance of each other.
Another experience you must have in Philly is just to walk down the street towards these two stands and smell the heavy air full of steak, onions and peppers that wander through the neighborhood. As I sit here eating the rest of my cheesesteak from “A Taste of Philly” I am reminded to save space for another great city creation, a big hot soft pretzel to take home and enjoy. Oh, and another cheesesteak for later!