On my first full day in Philadelphia, our first stop was the Reading Terminal Market. Mission: Cheesesteak.
There were several cheesesteak options in the market, but I think we chose Spataro’s because it had a steady flow of customers. Good sign.
Oh, speaking of signs:
I was really wishy-washy about whether I should order an original cheesesteak or one with mushrooms. I figured I should order an original on my first visit, but Mr. Tea talked me down and told me that if my heart desired mushrooms, I should go for it. So I got the mushroom cheesesteak and he got the original. We both opted in on the onions and got American cheese. (The other choice was provolone, which didn’t seem to melt as well.)
As we waited for our cheesesteaks, we stood in a line that snaked past the cooking station. So we got to watch it all happen!
As you can see, the whole process happens on this griddle. The steak is cooked along the back, while the sandwiches are constructed in the front. The guy cuts the meat with a sharp spatula, and dices in whatever else (mostly onions). Then he separates the meat, puts the desired cheese on top, and finally plops the bun on top. I liked the bun-goes-last thing. Unexpected!
A young guy was at the griddle, and an older jovial guy was standing behind him. At first I wasn’t sure what the older guy’s job was, but I think he was the kibbitzer/hander-outer of finished sandwiches. A third very old guy was also there, but I’m not sure what he was up to. He might have been Spataro, for all I know.
I took this picture to capture the bread, and unintentionally got arm-shots of the two older guys. And a view of the hoagie-making area.
I noticed that the other cheesesteak establishments also had Liscio’s boxes. I was informed that there are only a few acceptable bakeries for REAL cheesesteak sandwich rolls, and Liscio’s is one of them.
Our sandwiches in the making:
Haha, when I captioned that photo, I remembered that I have several kosher friends/relatives in/from the Philadelphia area. They can’t eat their city’s most famous food! Oops. Ah well, I’m sure the East Coast has lots of great kosher stuff.
A young cop was standing behind us in line, and commented to the kibbitzy (chatty) guy that the market was super crowded. The kibbitzer did a funny monologue about how people who are sick of cooking and annoyed with their visiting family bring them to the market for a break.
Somehow it came up that I was in Philly for the first time, and the cop asked if I ordered an original cheesesteak. I told him that I ordered mine with mushrooms, and he made a very disgusted face. Like, luckily he was on his lunch break or I might be ARRESTED right now.
But honestly, I didn’t really taste the mushrooms. So… crisis averted?
The cheesesteaks were appropriately greasy & juicy. When I took my first bite, I was like… Wow, this is so good it hurts? But it turned out that it was my messed up travel-jaw. I was seriously impaired. But I had to eat! After the miracle that was me even MAKING it to Philly, I wouldn’t let a little pain stop me from sampling its famous foods.
I managed to chew enough to eat more than I should have (probably 2/3 of my sandwich… maybe a hair less). The cheese was melted to the consistency of a sauce, and the steak was hot and tender. And the bread… it was mercifully soft and puffy.
Yes, I was kinda food coma-ish for a while after I ate this (napping occurred). And yes, my weak little stomach burbled muchly. (I’m getting a little PTSD stomach-burble as I type this.) But I did it! I tried a Philly cheesesteak. I can cross that off my list.
I don’t know if I’ll cheesesteak it up again on subsequent visits, but there are so many other sandwiches to try at Reading Market alone. Hoagies, brisket– even muffalettas. (Okay, I know muffalettas are a New Orleans thing. I’ve never been– I KNOW!!!– but my sister is there RIGHT NOW, so hopefully she’ll come back with a full dining report.)
All right, one big Philly post down. At least one more to come (the soft pretzels). Eyes on the prize! Eye of the tiger! (I actually ran up those Rocky steps… but not on the same day I ate the cheesesteak.)
Happy Sunday to all, and to all a good night! (That’s not to say I won’t post again in ten minutes…)