Sunday, June 3, 2007

And the Best Cheese Steak Sandwich Is...

Geno's or Pat's? Last weekend I went to Camden, NJ, to watch the National Scholastic Rowing Championship on the Cooper River there. My nephew, M, a sophmore at Upper Arlington High School in Columbus, OH, was third oar in a heavy-eight boat there. Sorry, I don't know the rowing lingo.

His boat was eliminated in the semis. I'm proud of him for making it so far. I was watching him during their 2K race (it takes about five or six minutes) and he looked like a strong rower. Afterwards, he proudly showed me his heavily-calloused palms. Why don't they wear gloves, you're thinking? Hey, weren't you young and tough once?

Go to Passyunk. Afterwards, I went across the river into Philadelphia to find an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. Two years ago when I ran the Philadelphia Race For The Cure, afterwards I had a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich at Jimmy's on South Street. My friends who went to Temple scoffed at me when I got back. That's tourist stuff, they said. There are only two choices, Geno's or Pat's in South Philly.

So I asked the toll attendant on the Walt Whitman Bridge, "How do I get to Geno's?"

"Get off at Broad, take a right and go up to Passyunk."

Wow. Do all natives know what and where Geno's is? I loved the way "Passyunk" rolled off his tongue. I had no idea how to pronounce it. (Above: Geno's!)

I found Geno's, all right, at 9th and Passyunk. Right across the street was Pat's. For locals, its like the Yankees and the Mets to New Yorkers. You love one and scoff at the other.

It was 2 pm. I had a late lunch at Geno's, the gaudier-looking restaurant of the two. I use the term restaurant lightly because seating is on the sidewalk and you have to know how to order at the two windows. The first one is only for ordering sandwiches. Don't try to order drinks or cheese-fries there. That's at the second window. There's always a line at both windows.

I was new to this so the attendant boredly took me through it. "Uh, I want a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich."

"American or Provolone." Notice he didn't even offer me the Cheese Whiz alternative.

"Uh, Provolone." What? I was being health-conscous at Geno's? I felt like a tree hugger.

"With or without."


"With cooked onions on the sandwich or not?"

Return to sanity. "Oh, with."

I was given a six-inch long dripping sandwich for seven dollars. It was cooked scrap meat on a soft hoagie roll with white cheese under the meat and a smattering of crunchy, under-cooked diced onions on top. (Above: Geno's offering.)

I ate it perched on a metal stool at a table along the curb. It was messy. I examined the brown meat drippings falling on my wax paper. Each blob had a perfect circle of a clear fat globule in the center. The sandwich sure tasted good.

Upon completion, I felt I had partaken in indigenous food. In Buffalo you find wings, and in Philly you find Cheese Steak sandwiches.

I eyed Pat's across the way. I speculated that I might never make it to 9th and Passyunk again in my life. I got up and walked around the block. Then I walked across the street for an early dinner at Pat's.

(Above: Pat's!) I walked up to the first of two windows. My observations at Geno's had taught me how to do this right. "Cheese Whiz wit." (Translation: Philly Cheese Steak sandwich with Cheese Whiz on it and with [wit] onions. "Witout" is how you say, No onions. Legend has it that if you muff stating your order, you have to go back to the end of the line and practice.)

For seven dollars, this six inch mess of a sandwich was a thing of beauty. A semi-hard hoagie roll with the familiar dripping meat in it, covered in gooey yellow Cheese Whiz with lots of fully-cooked onions on it.

Because I was such a tourist at Geno's, they didn't even offer me a Cheese Whiz option. But that, apparently, is the only way that locals get it. This horrible substance certainly made the sandwich tastier. (Right: Pat's offering.)

It was a lot to eat. I had a stomachache driving back to DC. But I had found my champion.

The two shops offer slightly different products. At Geno's the roll is soft and the onions undercooked. At Pat's the roll is hard and the onions are soft and drippy and more plentiful. Even allowing for the fact I mistakenly ordered Provolone cheese at Geno's, which did nothing for the sandwich, Pat's was the clear winner in my book. But that's a matter of fierce debate in South Philly. (Left: A quaint water fountain on Passyunk.)

Running update: Yesterday I ran a virtual DC Race For The Cure 5K in about 23:30, joining the actual race as a bandit arriving from elsewhere for the last half. Because the National race always has such a crush of people and is so expensive (but for a good cause, and I have paid to do over a dozen of these races in the past few years), I start at 8 am a mile and a half away in another direction and "join in." I know, I'm a bad person. Local running wonder Michael Wardian won the race in 15:27. (Right: Michael Wardian leads the DCRFTC5K at the midway mark.)

Good luck this morning to Bex, who is probably running a half-marathon at altitude in Taos as I write this, as she gets ready for the Lake Tahoe Relay on Saturday. This morning I ran 10 miles in 1:28:02 (8:48) as I get ready for my part in it. My splits were 8:11, 8:23, 8:37, 8:45, 8:44, 8:56, 8:58, 9:16, 9:28, 8:40. Here at sea level, I was definitely tiring greatly at the end and now my sore left leg aches again. I know, same old same old. But not a good sign for Saturday's race at altitude. I fly out Wednesday at 7 am. Anybody want to drive me to Dulles at 4:30 in the morning?


jeanne said...

WTH!?!?! My kid's bf placed SECOND at the IRAs on Saturday! Stanford and Harvard tied for silver, first time in stanford's history! woot! i forgot you had a nephew rower, or maybe I never knew.

anyway, the answer to your question is, of course:

(have you tried the foam roller on your leg yet? It might help.)

Just12Finish said...

What, no fat globules at Pat's?