Philadelphia is a special place. It’s a place where people pronounce bagels “beggels,” where the delicious frozen confection “water ice” isn’t considered redundant, where subs are called hoagies and where soft pretzels taste like they’re supposed to. Philadelphia is also the birthplace of American democracy, me, Will Smith, brotherly love and most importantly, cheesesteaks, the best idea for a sandwich ever. Tragically enough, no one outside of the Philadelphia area knows how to make a cheesesteak. People outside of the Philadelphia area think it’s acceptable to use mozzarella cheese, to chop the meat too finely, to add things like peppers and olives, to use bread that isn’t soft enough to properly absorb the meat juices and too soft to maintain the sandwich’s structural integrity.
According to lore, cheesesteaks were invented by Pat and Harry Olivieri in South Philadelphia in the 1930s, where they were sold out of a hot dog stand in the Italian market. The sandwiches became an instant hit — obviously — despite not yet being served with cheese, but merely pizza sauce (these are now known as pizza steaks). The Olivieri’s went on to open their own restaurant, Pat’s King of Steaks, now a legend in the cheesesteak-eating community. At Pat’s, and any legitimate cheeseteak establishment, you’ll find up to three cheese offerings: provolone, American or Cheez Whiz (yes, that thick processed cheese sauce, and the traditional choice). The meat must always be thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef. The roll must be long, crusty, and rarely with seeds, though I’ve seen it done. You are allowed to put fried onions, ketchup and sautéed mushrooms (occasionally) without angering the cheesesteak gods.
As a freshman I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to Yale. The constant rain, living with people and the lack of an authentic Philly cheesesteak, a Philly cheesesteak that really deserved its “Philly”, made my transition into college life bumpy. How could I live in a place where a grinder was the sandwich of choice? Grinders have lettuce in them. Lettuce. Why would I want lettuce to interfere with my meat, cheese, and bread? I’m sorry, but lettuce doesn’t have flavor. It just doesn’t. Juicy, hot meat has flavor, as does cheese and sautéed onions. There is no reason to eat any type of sandwich besides a cheesesteak, unless it’s Philly roast pork, but that’s a different story.
So it was to my great surprise when I stumbled upon a Philly cheesesteak worth my time, at Gourmet Heaven of all places. I actually first stumbled upon the cheesesteak in my suite, half-eaten and sitting in the microwave. Without bothering to ask who it belonged to, I took a bite. Wow. I would have done a spit-take if the sandwich wasn’t so god damn delicious. Could this really be happening? Am I really eating an authentic Philly cheese steak in this miserable, rainy excuse for a town? Did someone have this shipped from Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s or John’s in Philadelphia?
The bread was soft, but firm enough to hold up to the succulent filling of meat, cheese and sweet, sautéed onions, elegantly chopped together on the stove, Philadelphia’s standard procedure. The proportions were spot on: 3:2:0.5 (meat, cheese, onions). The meat was moist and expertly chopped, and the cheese was American. It tasted like freedom.
The sandwich is a steal at only $6.95, and the perfect choice for late-night snacking, or anytime snacking, if you’re not concerned with drastic weight gain. It’s also a perfect choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This is probably one of the only offerings at G-Heav I would recommend to a sober hungry person.
The other night, I brought one of these cheesesteaks back to bed with me, ate it and watched three of the Rocky movies. I love my city.