While there are nearly a half dozen towns that report to be the home of the hamburger, there is only one home for the cheese steak and that is Philadelphia. Sliced beef and onion served on a hoagie, the sandwich was first served by Pat’s a hotdog stand on Philly’s south side. Today the Philly cheese steak ranks below only Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as the city’s top tourist draws.
When we lived in Delaware, we twice partook of this Philadelphia institution but both times at Jim’s Steaks on South Street. This round we wanted to dive head long into the cheese steak wars. Pat’s and Geno’s are located within sightline of one another on opposing corners at 9th Street and Passyunk Street.
We began at Pat’s as you should always respect your elders and Pat’s is credited as the innovator of the cheese steak. Originally served plain, without cheese, today the favorite topping of this location is Cheese Whiz. Quirky ordering instructions greet you and help you avoid embarrassing yourself in front of Philadelphians who would make you feel like you should have just ordered fries. We ordered one sandwich “whiz wit” (Cheese Whiz with onions) and settled in an outdoor booth near some southsiders to enjoy.
We quickly devoured a half each in no time and made our way across the intersection to Geno’s. Similar to Pat’s in ordering instructions, Geno’s positions itself precisely on top of the pro-America outspoken blue collar neighborhood that is its bread and butter. Signs near the counter tout their support for policemen and fire fighters and a disdain for unassimilated Americans. Visitors are greeted by messages like “Press 1 for English. Press 2 for deportation.” and “This is America. We order in English.”
We ordered the same sandwich from Geno’s (with onions and wiz) and we sat down at another outdoor table that featured celebrity photos and photos of soldiers and police officers. The traffic t each booth seemed similar, the sandwiches cost $9 and were handed to you with identical Philly swag. So what makes them different?
Honestly, not too much. Pat’s meat tasted fresh (which could be the day ad time we visited) and the Cheese Wiz a bit thicker while Geno’s atmosphere and design were clearly more inviting. I liked the sandwich at Pat’s while Victoria had a split opinion. Try the challenge yourself.