Who has the best cheesesteak in Philly, Pat’s or Geno’s? Geno’s or Pat’s?
Neither, they both SUCK!
I remember my first experience with Pat’s and Geno’s, and Philadelphia in general, came via the music video for ‘Motown Philly’ by Boyz II Men. I was a 10 year old, half Hawaiian kid living in San Diego, and I marveled at the historical document accurately depicting dope-ass rappers/R&B-singers repping Philly circa 1991. I wanted to be wearing a dress shirt tucked into jean shorts, while flossing a blazer and tie, and did I mention the walking stick. If Gandolf and his crew were looking for that ring in the 90’s, they probably would have been members of the East Coast Family. No diggity. No doubt. After Philadelphia burst onto the scene with the help of the Fresh Prince, it lay dormant in my mind for years, biding it’s time until it could once again harnass the attention of its forgotten son in Southern California.
The Philadelphia Renaissance occurred due to the advent of food and travel television and spearheading the movement was the question as to who had the best cheesesteaks, Pat’s or Geno’s in South Philly. Each synonymous with the other, Pat’s and Geno’s were always mentioned in the same breath, like Sodom and Gomorrah or Simon and Garfunkel. Everywhere you looked, a talking head on TV was yapping about the world famous pair of cheesesteak shop’s, and their unbelievable product. It was like having to watch the Sham-Wow guy.
I recently had a chance to take a trip to the City of Brotherly Love for the sole purpose of being a contestant on a TV food competition show — which can neither be mentioned by name nor commented on — and was pumped with the idea of being able to eat a Cheesesteak in the Petri dish where it was created. In my childish and naïve mind, I only thought there were two Cheesesteak Shops in all of Philly, Pat’s and Geno’s. (Full disclosure, I’m not even really sure if they’re called ‘Cheesesteak Shops’, but that’s what I’m going to call them because in San Diego we call Mexican taco stands, ‘Taco Shops.’) So I was ‘Sixth Sense’ shocked when I asked the born and bred Philly security guard the best place for a cheesesteak, and his response was, ‘Steve’s Prince.’ I’d never even heard of the place, so I inquired why on Earth would he not include the Cain and Abel of cheesesteaks. ‘Cuz they ain’t that good and they assholes. They gimme a hard time ordering like I’m a tourist or somethin,’ and I live down da street jerkoff.’
Fair enough, but I felt like I wasn’t getting the answer I wanted. I started to invent reasons why the incredibly nice security guard must be wrong about his recommendation. I started to panic, and by panic I mean I didn’t give it another thought until we were finished filming the next day, when I asked one of the judges on the show where to go for a Cheesesteak. (A highly respected local chef with a great resume and an even better restaurant. And once again by law I cannot mention his name) He said if we only had one night in Philly, we couldn’t go wrong with either Pat’s of Geno’s.
Finally! The answer I was looking for. All I wanted was the ok from someone who calls this city home, to give me the ‘OK’ to go the hallowed street corner of 9th and Passyunk and indulge my carnal cravings. My best friend (Who if you must know was my partner on the cooking show and because of a non-disclosure agreement I simply cannot divulge anything else) and I arrived ready to kick some ass and takes some names. Truth be told, we were ready to drink some bourbon after a long day of filming and this was going to be our pre-drink meal. We went in with the game plan of getting the same sandwich at each place and sharing ‘One Provee Wit.’ If my Cheesesteak lingo is correct means, a Cheesesteak with sharp provolone and fried onions.
Instead of breaking down each sandwich I’m just going to use broad strokes in order to describe my disappointment. The bread was better at Geno’s but Pat’s had better meat. The onions and cheese weren’t that good and it just left everything flat and not kick-you-in-the-balls flavorful as expected. Nothing else to say really, except that the service was fast and the guys taking our orders were actually really nice and accommodating.
Bottom line, they were both just ‘Blah.’
Looking back the chef must’ve told us to go to the venerable establishments simply for the tourist/kitsch value. The neon lights. The big signs. Like a UFC fighter who says they’re going to beat Ronda Rousey and destroy her, then 16 seconds later they’re asking what hell happened. Same thing happened to us during our Cheesesteak experiment in Philly. We ate our sandwiches and looked at each like, ‘That’s it?’ I felt blue balled beyond anything I’ve ever experienced before and I was a virgin until I was 26. (Just kidding…or am I)
I was expecting a culinary epiphany as if seeing a girls breasts for the first time in person. But all I got was the equivalent of two large circles drawn on a piece of paper with two red dots in the middle. Maybe I was expecting too much because of the hype. Maybe I ordered the wrong thing. Maybe I just don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Probably all three. But I will stand by the fact I’ve had a better Cheesesteak in Santa Monica and possibly a Hot Pocket as well.