"It is possible to die from eating. But I think to be professional means you don't die." (Takeru Kobayashi)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


The Ultimate South Philly Cheesesteak tour is in the books and despite not wanting another cheesesteak any time soon, it was a great day and a good time overall. The weather was perfect (mid 70's and sunny) which was nice as Carey, Pete and I parked and walked to many of our tour stops. John's Roast Pork was scheduled to be our sixth of seven tour stops but was closed by the time we got to it. With that, here's how I ranked the six steaks. The first four are all very good. The last two, not so much:

1. Campo's
2. Jim's
3. Tony Luke's
4. Steaks on South
5. Pat's
6. Geno's

Below are photos of each steak, along with my opinions of each. The last criteria we'll judge these steaks by is their "Food Porn" score, which is the measure of how mouthwatering they look based solely on visual appearance. That's where you come in. Take a look at each and let me know in a comment what you think. Rate them on a scale of one to five or just let me know which ones are the best and worst.

JIM'S STEAKS (S. 4th & South Street)
SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions and whiz
THOUGHTS: Jim's got us off to a great start. Then again, I was starving when we started our tour, so you could have shredded up the insoles of my shoes, slathered on some whiz and it would have tasted good at that point. But even in retospect, Jim's was one of the best on the tour. They offered the most beef of any of the steakeries and even though Carey swore by the Amorosa brand of buns they used (baked at the Amorosa Bakery in Philly), I found the bun to be a bit too soft for my taste. Definitely not the prettiest steak, but easily one of the tastiest.

STEAKS ON SOUTH (308 South Street)
SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions and whiz
THOUGHTS: Steaks on South was the second stop of six on our tour and only about 300 feet from Jim's. Unlike the other old timey "institutions" on our tour, SOS is a relatively new shop that sprang up to tempt the tastebuds of South Street's tourist traffic. They tried to pretend like they've been around a while by adopting a 50's style inside complete with semi-annoying and too loud 50's music. Doo wop overkill aside, I liked this steak, even though Carey and Pete didn't as much. Good meat, really juicy (as you can see) and a nice, crispy/chewy bun. Two things that I love about this picture: the juice that has visibly soaked into the bun at the joint between the two halves and the big dollop of whiz in the bottom right.

CAMPO'S (214 Market Street)
SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions, mushrooms and provolone
THOUGHTS: We kept the car parked on South Street and walked up to Campos (about 15 minutes) to burn off the first two steaks. The walk included a pit stop in the St. Peter's Church cemetary where Carey swore he once saw a tombstone for the legendary "Phil McCracken" (Phil was no where to be found). Once at Campo's, we discovered yet another great steak. Overall, it was a good balance of beef in a crispy bun. The atmosphere was clean and family-friendly, with outdoor seating overlooking the Penn's Landing entrance at the end of Market Street. After three good stops, I was beginning to wonder if the second half of the tour could possibly get any better.

PAT'S KING OF STEAKS (9th & Passyunk Ave.)
SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions and whiz
THOUGHTS: Located across the street from each other in the heart of South Philly, stops four (Pat's) and five (Geno's) on our tour are largely considered the center of the cheesesteak universe. Accompanying us on this leg of the tour was a co-worker friend of Carey's who lives two blocks from Pat's/Geno's (lucky?) and whose house we just happened to park directly in front of. So which one is best, Pat's or Geno's? It's a question that has plagued cheesesteak aficionados for decades. My answer (and the consensus from the group) is NEITHER. Although both steakeries would be the most disappointing tour stops, Pat's is marginally better, but not by much. The ends of my bun were meatless and even the middle didn't offer much in terms of steak. The pieces were also larger than most which means less juice and grease (the good stuff).

GENO'S STEAKS (9th & Passyunk Ave.)
SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions and provolone
THOUGHTS: The neon lights and autographed photos of celebrities had little effect on the quality of the steak. Much like Pat's, Geno's offered not enough steak and nowhere near enough flavor. See how that piece of steak looks like the tongue of shoe? That's what it tasted like. This was the worst steak on the tour.

Paradoxically, even though their cheesesteaks left us feeling cheated, the lines at both Pat's and Geno's were BY FAR the longest all day (Pat's was slightly longer). That's mainly because both steakeries attract a steady flow of tourists who sadly leave Philadelphia thinking that they've just had the best steak the city has to offer. Despite the long lines, the wait time was minimal thanks to a quick and efficient staff. Even before the person in front of you has moved out of the way, you're greeted with a "Next!" Pause more than half a second and you'll get another "NEXT!" (NOTE: Speed and politeness are inversely proportionate, but that's part of the charm.)

With five steaks in our bellies, we were in dire need of a break so we headed back to Carey's friend's house where we sort of sat there, melting into her leather couch and feeling bloated. Carey sacked out on a bean bag chair in the corner and managed to catch a few Z's while Pete and I played with her dachshunds (and by "dachshunds" I mean "dachshunds").

SHOWN HERE: Steak with onions and whiz
THOUGHTS: After our scheduled stop at John's Roast Pork was cancelled because it was closed, Tony Luke's became our sixth and last stop on the tour. It was an ideal last stop too because they were the only steakery that also served beer. At least they did in the Tony's Lukes restaurant, which was across the street from the more traditional Tony Lukes steak shop. Sames steaks, different atmospheres. This place also included big screen TV's, which allowed me to catch a few innings of the Yankees/Red Sox game. Tony Luke's is actually known more for its pork sandwiches and giant Big Daddy Luke's burger but the steaks weren't bad either. The homemade buns were nice and crispy and the steak had good taste to it.

Next up for the UEPa: A NORTH Philly Cheesesteak tour. Or a trip back to Tony Luke's to put away the Big Daddy Luke's burger (three pounds of beef on a thin looking bun). Or a trip back to South Street where we saw a pizza shop with thin crust pizzas that were easily 30 inches wide. I'll leave you with a picture of the three of us at Geno's.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judging by looks only, and your discriptions, Jim's seems to be the best mainly because we like a softer bun. Tony's looked nice and meaty, so we rate it second. Steaks on South appeared to be greasy. You may call it juicy, but it looked like grease to us. The rest just didn't stand out.
Looking forward to your next "tour"

D & M

6:55 PM

Blogger RM1(SS) (ret) said...

Going by your pictures, I'd rate them (best to worst):
1. Campo's
2. Jim's
3. Pat's*
4. Steaks on South**
5. Tony Luke's
6. Geno's

* Might actually rate above Jim's if it weren't so empty.
** I have to agree with anonymous that it looks more "greasy" than "juicy."

7:30 PM

Blogger Mega Munch said...

D&M and RM1, you're right about Jim's being a good steak. I guess the soft bun vs. slightly crispy bun is a personal preference thing.

I hope I can go back to Tony Lukes on an empty stomach and try their steaks again. Everyone raves about them and I think being the last stop on the tour hurt my opinion of them slightly.

As for grease vs. juice, that's up to the individual too. I remember going to watch the Phillies at the old Veterans Stadium several years ago and getting a cheesesteak there. There was so much grease/juice in that steak that by the time I was done, the grease had run down my arm and was dripping off my elbow. That was the best cheesesteak I ever had.

7:50 AM

Blogger Carey said...

Dave, I would agree completely with your results. You didn't mention price? All were pretty much "you pay for what you get" with SOS being the exception. Unless they charge for the extra water.
Campo's ROLL wasn't crunchy, but it wasn't as soft as Jim's. The meat at Campo's was so good that it puts Capmo's over the top. Plus their you'll find the best atmosphere. SOS wasn't greasy. It actually was water. They drown their steak in it. Sure, all places use water in the process, but SOS doesn't give it time to cook off after dumping a whole bottle of it on their steak.
One more thing about Tony Lukes- Don't get mushrooms. They marinate in garlic and parsley, which does not mix well with the whiz. We all noticed the smell as soon as my steak arrived. I could barely finish it (sure, the other five in me belly might have had a little to do with it)
Dave, I am not so excited about the TL Burger, you have to pay for it whether you finish or not. I will still do it though. I want to try the pizza across from Jim's first.

9:04 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Campo's looks good- but I need more cheez whiz

11:32 AM

Anonymous INVADER said...

To not be biased on pictures alone, I will just go out of the whole realm of judging by saying that Campo's looked the most expensive. So maybe it wasn't one of your criteria but Carey brought up a good point. Just curious of course. I hate to hear that Pat's and Geno's (the ONLY two steak places I heard to go to) were the worst. Shows how much of a Philly outsider I am. I'll be damned if I miss another tour!

12:35 PM

Blogger Carey said...

Actually, Ian, cheap disgusting food is what South Philly is all about. Thst's why there is a 10 minute line in front of both of them, and that is why everybody has heard of them (oh, and because of Boyz II Men) The prices go up as you head north, but so does the quality.

1:00 PM

Blogger SupersizedMeals.com said...

Going on food porn-i-ness alone (hey, a new term!), here's my ranking of the cheesesteaks from best to worst and a short description why...

1. Steaks on South - While I'm not a seasoned CheeseSteaker, this is what I imagined a CheeseSteak to be. Lots of finely cut, slow roasted steak infused with greasy melted cheese. The "soak" factor into the bread, and the pool of cheese in the bottom right of the photo shows they haven't skimped on the fillings too. Mmm... greasy!

2. Jim's Steaks - I love the looks of this one, full of meat and grilled onion, but I'm not seeing a lot of cheese though. Still seems to have that slow cooked steak texture which is great, although the white soft roll doesn't look as appealing as Steaks on South imho...

3. Campo's - This one looks pretty good, shaved steak laced with onion, but the cheese seemed a little scarce. I was torn between Geno's and this one for 3rd place, maybe the angle of the pic didn't do it justice... either way it does look pretty well packed

4. Geno's Steaks - I'm giving it 4th purely due to the volume of meat in this puppy (even though Dave didn't like the flavor). I'm not sure you could call it a traditional Cheesesteak though could you? Looks more like a roast beef roll to me... anyway, lots of beef, so that's gotta be a good thing, right?

5. Tony Luke's - I think this one could have done with more filling. Again, it looked a bit like a roast beef roll, and the cheese looks more like mustard to me. Maybe they were having a bad day? I've always heard good things about Tony Lukes...

6. Pat's King of Steaks - I hate it when places call themselves "The King" and don't live up to it. Kinda makes me want to avoid places that make claims in their name. This one looks like it had hardly any filling at all, bun looks ok though I guess..

Sounds like you guys had a top time!!! Shame I couldn't make it, can't wait to see the UEPa hit the "Big Daddy Luke"!!! (I need some better pics of that place and the challenge too! *hint hint* haha)

Awesome stuff guys!!


PS - Can I grab some of those pics off Flickr? I'd love to put them into SupersizedMeals.com's Food Porn Section!

11:33 PM

Blogger Mega Munch said...

BILLY - I like your comparison of Geno's to a roast beef sandwich. The thing that was most unsettling about Genos was that the process (slap cheese on bun, slap meat over chesse, serve) didn't allow my provolone to melt and infuse with the rest of the sandwich. I guess that's why most people just get thier steaks with whiz.

Anyhow, yes, feel free to pull some pics off flickr for SSM. Anytime.

7:38 AM

Blogger Carey said...

Billy, you are right, SOS does look apetizing, but when you actually eat it, you get this feeling that you are eating something disgusting because of the sogginess (Pete couldn't finish his, says it tasted like there was mayo in his) Take your favorite food and let it sit in a bowl of water before eating it to get the same experience, just don't do it at a picnic rules competition :)
Pat's and Geno's? Well, I am still pulling strands of gristle out of my teeth, not to mention the low self esteem the drink lady caused.
Most places put the cheese on first, then the meat, as a barrier to protect the roll, that is why you don't see it much in the pictures.
Wow, looking at the photo's, I wouldn't have voted the way I did either. Looks really are deceiving.

9:52 AM

Anonymous Savage said...

Can't believe I missed it. However, when I got my lazy ass up, I did go to what is now my favorite cheese steak place, and I would highly recommend for the next tour (I know an employee there, perhaps we could get some publicity). It is called Chicks in Cherry Hill, and makes Jims and Tony Luke's look silly. I prefer the soft roll, and it is known only through word of mouth, as it is an unassuming deli in an unmarked alley. In recent years it has slaughtered all philly spots. Also, I agree whole heartedly that Geno's and Pats are the worst in the area.

12:09 AM


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