There are many culinary battles waged across the country—wars of burgers and barbecue, pies and biscuits. In the City of Brotherly Love the battle rages over a foot-long hoagie stuffed with hot sliced beef and swiped with cheese whiz—aka the Cheesesteak. And the contenders in the skirmish are located across the street from one another in South Philly—Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s. This weekend, Craig and I headed down to Philly for my cousin’s wedding, and we thought, what would a road trip to Philly be without a side-by-side comparison of Pat’s and Geno’s? A mistake, that’s what it would be. And so we drove from Brooklyn and got in line to see (and taste) for ourselves which steak was truly best.
We arrived and found both Pat’s and Geno’s already quite busy with lines of folks in shorts and t-shirts snaking around the block. We were undeterred. We had time and our plan was simple. We’d order our Pat’s first, then head across the street to Geno’s, eat the Pat’s cheesesteak in line (and hope not to be booted) and then order the same from Geno’s: Cheesesteaks wit (not with) onions and whiz. Here’s how things went.
The line at Pat’s moves pretty quickly, and as we rounded the corner of this retro sandwich stand and found the order window in sight, we were surrounded by round picnic tables filled with friends and families digging into their cheesesteaks and wiping wiz from their cheeks. My stomach started to growl. A sign on the wall gives any cheesesteak rookies a quick tutorial on how to order. First, order wit or wit out. These terms indicate whether you’d like sautéed onions or not. We did. Then you’re to select your cheese preference—provolone or wiz. While I didn’t think I’d ever go for anything with cheese whiz, this is the traditional way to go, and I wanted to eat it the way the natives do. So I ordered us a whiz wit. In about three seconds I was handed a steaming hot hoagie piled high with thinly sliced steak topped off with sweet sautéed onions and slathered with whiz. We grabbed a few fistfuls of napkins and headed across the street to eat our Pat’s in the Geno’s line.
With napkins in hand and protecting my shirt, I took my first bite. It was a bit too hot but it was really good. The bread—a long hoagie-styled roll—is soft enough to give into your bite, so that the beef, onions and cheese don’t squish out the other end, which insures you won’t be having any bites of just bread. What you do get a bite of is really hot beef that’s tender, well-seasoned, and generously piled on (for all of $7.50) and the diced onions add a nice bit of flavor and texture to the sloppy, gooey cheese. Yes, it’s whiz, but somehow, melting into the hot beef, it tastes just right. It’s not something that you’ll find on anyone’s most healthful list or on any sort of locavore menu, but it hit the spot. It would’ve been even better if we’d had a cold beer, but alas we were driving.
By the time we were half way through the line, we had finished our Pat’s and were ready to see if Geno’s could measure up. We’d heard from some people behind us on line that Geno’s beef was seasoned better that Pat’s. We’d have to see for ourselves. Geno’s is decked out in orange tiles and has a series of displays of police badges from all over the state of Pennsylvania. They also have a cop car stationed at the front of the store. I guess this is their Dunkin Donuts. The Geno’s menu includes not French fries but Freedom Fries, and the exterior is lined with plaques in memory of fallen officers and veterans. Their patriotism also extends to their language of choice. There are several signs that read: Orders Taken in English Only, Management Reserves the Right Not to Serve. This sort of put a bad taste in my mouth. Here are these South Philly Italian guys requiring orders in English. Come on. Somehow I don’t think their parents or grandparents came to this country speaking English. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. I don’t know, for me, that sort of stung.
In any case, we ordered our second hoagie the same way as the first: whiz, wit. Geno’s steaks (also $7.50) are presented on long hoagie rolls that look the same but doesn’t taste the same at Pat’s: this bread is too chewy and not as fluffy as the Pat’s bread. This can cause some of the filling to squeeze out the other end, which is messy and not ideal. And while we’d heard the meat was more flavorful, we begged to differ. We found it closer to bland than seasoned and also were disappointed that it wasn’t hotter. While Pat’s Steaks are piping hot, Geno’s are merely tepid, which doesn’t help the sandwich come together. What’s more, the guys at Geno’s are stingy with their meat. The beef was piled so high it was falling out of our Pat’s, but was neatly and safely (read: skimpily) tucked inside the bun of Geno’s. I didn’t even bother finishing my half of the Geno’s. I was done. I waited for Craig to finish his half and as he wiped the whiz from his lips, I asked him what he thought. He agreed. Pat’s was way better. We had made our decision. Pat’s is the KING of steaks.
If you don’t agree (or even if you do), please Share Your Two Cents, below!
Pat’s King of Steaks, open 24/7, is located at 1237 E Passyunk Avenue, corner of South 9th Street, (215) 468-1546
Geno’s is located at 1219 South 9th Street, corner of Passyunk Avenue, (215) 389-0659