(Spoiler: They both disappoint, I present a much better option about 295 miles closer to home after the review)
As I mentioned last week, our last trip to Philly included a face off between the two landmark Philly Cheesesteak spots Pat’s and Genos.
Really Pat and Gino’s, as they are often referred to, is actually two spots:
Pat’s King of Steaks and Geno’s Steaks.
Located diagonally across from each other in South Philly’s Little Italy, their rivalry is the stuff of great Food Television. Everyone from Diners Drive-ins and Dives to Michael Simons has done a show on the famous rivalry, usually with a tag line something like “Who has the BEST Cheesesteak….we’ll find out!”
So despite Philly Snowmageddon 2011, we headed to 9th street to do our own test.
Because of the controversy (and our parking spot) we started at Pat’s. FYI, as my dad informed me with an ill concealed tone of disdain, “you know they use cheese wiz??” You can get real cheese, but in the interest of authenticity we decided to go wit da wiz.
At Pat’s we ordered:
- Steak with wiz, mushrooms, no onions
- 2 Steaks with wiz and onions
Overall impressions were “Eh.”
My dad’s girlfriend was really turned off by the bun which was quite soft. I didn’t find it overly off putting but coming from a place where sub shops put their subs on Mancini’s and other wonderful bakery bread, it also was completely forgettable. The wiz wasn’t bad, I kinda like fake cheese product* but the mushrooms were canned and the onions were chopped small and cooked TO DEATH. They were mixed into the meat and frankly added nothing to the sandwich. I was hoping for nice big pieces of onion sauteed and perched atop the meat, but alas the onions were virtual no shows to the party. Worse yet, the star of the show, the meat, was frankly quite tasteless.
Disappointed but trying to show a brave face we finished our steaks and crossed the frozen tundra to try Geno’s. In keeping with my commitment to eat responsibly we ordered one sandwich with wiz and split it into four.
I’m sad to report that the meat had more flavor and thus the overall sandwich was better at Geno’s. In a face off between Pat’s and Geno’s, Geno’s was the clear winner.
However, if we consider each steak independently of each other and in comparison to some ideal cheese steak, both were flat out losers. We had several major complaints that would deter me from ever eating at either spot again.
1. The bread. Both places used an insipid roll with little flavor and a texture more like soft, store bought white bread than a good hearty Italian roll.
2. Volume. Neither sandwich had enough meat on it. I was reminded of my High School cafeteria’s attempts to stretch their food budget and put half the required meat on any sandwich. There were a few thin slices of over cooked, under seasoned meat on each sandwich.
3. Size/Price. In my world, 1/2 a hogie is 6 inches (at least) and a whole one is 12. These “whole” subs (there is no half option, so I have to assume it was whole) were 8 inches tops. Eight wimpy inches. But they cost $7.50 each (more if you got extras). Yikes. I’d have not blinked at the price if it were a hearty delicious sandwich, but it wasn’t. It was a tasteless, tiny, weak little effort.
4. Attitude. They make no bones about their attitude, it is rude. They will tell you how to order and if you do it wrong have no patience for your ignorance. We all agreed it’s part of their schtick and we might have put up with it for great product. But the product wasn’t great. So you are paying $7.50 for a tiny little, mediocre sandwich served to you by someone who seems irritated that you have the nerve to still be standing in their window. No thank you.
((I should add that I’m sure you can get a really fantastic Cheese steak in Philly, when I was in High School the one’s at Sal’s on 611 in Warrington kicked ass, I’m just saying the fantastic Philly Cheese steak you are looking for IS NOT at Pat’s or Geno’s))
Now, if you want a GOOD cheese steak approximately 295 miles closer to home, may I suggest Rudy Martino’s in Swissvale:
Disappointed by the Pat’s and Geno’s adventure, my chef promised to take me to get a good steak closer to home. He was wrong, it wasn’t good. It was GREAT. Everything a Philly CheeseSteak should be, except in Swissvale.
Look at that roll! Can you see it? It’s a real Italian roll. And that “half” a hogie is easily as big as the “whole” thing Pat and Geno’s serve. There is also about 2 times as much meat on it. All perfectly cooked with less gristly fat and more seasoning. The onions were nice strings (I’m certain there is a technical term for it but I have wracked my brains and cannot think of what to call them) cooked enough to take out the sharp edge but not so much as to make them flavorless.
And the real kicker, guess how much that cost?
FOUR FREAKING FIFTY. $4.50. For twice as much food and about 10 times the taste and quality. Even granting P&G an upcharge for Philly rents, I still resent paying a lot for bad food when I can pay a little for great food.
Plus, at Rudy Martino’s you get the PITTSBURGH ATTITUDE. Which, as we all know, is congenial to a fault, especially when measured against the other Pennsylvania City to the East.
Added bonus, if you sit in the side room you can look out on a fantastic mural:
One final note, my chef always gets his steak subs with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. I saw EW. BIG FAT EWWW. I think this might be a Pittsburgh thing. We decided to call this a Pittsburgh Philly Steak. But upon reflection I really don’t know if either preference is regional or personal. Thoughts?
*Come to think of it, my dad has no place being put off by cheese wiz as this is the man that raised me on Velveeta cheese dip! Yummmmmo!