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Philly's Signature Sandwiches: Cheesesteaks & Hoagies
Here in Philly, cheesesteaks and hoagies are civic icons, tourist draws and cultural obsessions. Often imitated around the world, the sandwiches are rarely duplicated successfully outside of Philadelphia. Get the lowdown on the cheesesteak and the hoagie at visitphilly.com/cheesesteaks and visitphilly.com/hoagies.
What Is A Cheesesteak?:
A cheesesteak is a long, crusty roll filled with thinly sliced sautéed ribeye beef and melted cheese. Generally, the cheese of choice is Cheez Whiz®, but American and provolone are common substitutions. The art of cheesesteak preparation lies in the balance of flavors, textures and what is often referred to as the “drip” factor. Other toppings may include fried onions, sautéed mushrooms, ketchup and hot or sweet peppers.
What Is A Hoagie?:
Declared the “official sandwich of Philadelphia” by Mayor Ed Rendell in 1992, the hoagie is a built-to-order sandwich on a long Italian roll, typically filled with deli meat and cheese, garnished with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions and finished with a drizzle of oregano-vinegar dressing. Hoagies can also be filled with tuna, chicken cutlets and roasted vegetables, among other fillings. Because of its simplicity, the quality of a hoagie truly depends on the quality of its ingredients.
The cheesesteak made its official debut in 1930. Pat Olivieri was a South Philly hot dog vendor who decided to put some beef from the butcher on his grill. A taxi driver noticed the aroma and asked for his own steak sandwich. The next day, rumor of the delicious lunch had spread, and cabbies came to Olivieri demanding steak sandwiches. Soon after, Olivieri opened up a shop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, Pat’s King of Steaks, to sell his creation. Eventually, he added cheese to the recipe. Today, Pat’s grills are sizzling 24 hours a day, as are Geno’s Steaks, the rival shop across the street. For nearly 50 years, the two shops have waged a friendly competition, with Geno’s founder, Joe Vento, claiming it was he, not Olivieri, who first added cheese to the steak.
Accounts of the hoagie’s origin vary greatly, and scholars are still debating exactly where and when the sandwich was conceived. Here are a few of the stories that pinpoint the hoagie’s origin to Philadelphia:
- According to a 1967 article in American Speech, the word “hoagie” was first used in the late 19th or early 20th century among the Italian community in South Philadelphia. In those days, “On the hoke” was a slang term for a poor person. Deli owners would give away meat and cheese scraps on a long roll called a “hokie,” but Italian immigrants pronounced it “hoagie.”
- The Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual tells of early 20th-century street vendors named “hokey-pokey men,” who sold antipasto salad, meats and cookies. When Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera Pinafore opened in Philadelphia, in 1879, bakeries produced a long loaf called the pinafore, and the enterprising hokey-pokey men sliced it in half, filled it with antipasto and sold it as the “hoagie.”
- In 1925, a Chester couple opened the A. DiCostanza grocery store, which stayed open past midnight to accommodate gamblers. One night, a hungry card player walked to the back of the store when Catherine DiCostanza was cooking peppers and asked if she would make him a sandwich. She asked what kind of meat he wanted, and he said, “Put everything you have in the case in it.” She took a loaf of Vienna bread and sliced it open and stuffed it. He asked her to put some of her peppers in too. He left, and an hour later, the place was full of hungry gamblers asking for the same kind of sandwich, which would later be known as the hoagie.
Best Places To Find A Cheesesteak:
Nearly every pizza shop on any corner of every neighborhood in the city serves up the mouth-watering delicacy. Here are a few notable Center City and South Philadelphia spots, but first a lesson on ordering. Those who want a cheesesteak must answer two critical questions: What kind of cheese do you want? And do you want onions? Those who want Cheez Whiz and onions, ask for a “Whiz Wit.” Those who want provolone without onions, ask for a “Provolone Witout.”
- Some might call it cheesesteak sacrilege, but vegans have to eat too. To that end, Blackbird Pizzeria produces a fine seitan “cheesesteak” that can fool the best of them. 507 S. 6th Street, (215) 625-6660, blackbirdpizzeria.com
- Cosmi’s Deli is a relative newcomer among the cheesesteak contenders, winning recent accolades from Philadelphia magazine. 1501 S. 8th Street, (215) 468-6093, cosmideli.com
• It may be across the street from the oldest cheesesteak joint in town, but Geno’s Steaks is a formidable competitor going roll for roll with Pat’s for nearly five decades. 1219 S. 9th Street, (215) 389-0659, genosteaks.com
- The brisket cheesesteak at Jake’s Sandwich Board can be adorned with either mild provolone and caramelized onions or, less conventionally, wasabi spread and crunchy onions. 122 S. 12th Street, (215) 922-0102, jakessandwichboard.com
- Jim’s Steaks has multiple locations, but the classic smell of fried onions wafting down South Street makes that outpost a memorable one. 400 South Street, (215) 928-1911, jimssouthstreet.com
- A small shack amidst shopping plazas, John’s Roast Pork is frequently cited as one of the city’s top steak spots. Its secret weapon? A crusty seeded roll. 14 Snyder Avenue, (215) 463-1951, johnsroastpork.com
- The original home of the cheesesteak, Pat’s King of Steaks is still owned and operated by the Olivieri family. 9th Street & Passyunk Avenue, (215) 468-1546, patskingofsteaks.com
- Rick’s Philly Steaks is a third-generation spinoff of Pat’s, started by the “Prince of Steaks” Rick Olivieri, who exported his cheesesteak savvy to Kennett Square. 148 W. State Street, Kennett Square, (610) 444-7425, rickssteaks.com
- With rolls from Conshohocken bakery, a plethora of cheese choices and daily-cut sirloin, Spot Burger’s food cart has been repeatedly named a favorite among cheesesteak lovers. Locations vary, (484) 620-6901, twitter.com/spotburgers
- Every sandwich at the award-winning Tony Luke’s is worth ordering, and the deliciousness now spans multiple locations across state lines. tonylukes.com
Best Places To Find A Hoagie:
From South Philly to the suburbs, there are go-to hoagie shops in every borough and every neighborhood. Here’s a look at some of the most sought-after hoagies in town:
- An Old City institution since 1947, Campo’s Deli is well situated for visitors of historic sites craving classic hoagies like Italian (salami, ham capacola, peppered ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and provolone) or Italian tuna (oil-packed), available on regular or seeded bread. 214 Market Street, (215) 923-1000, camposdeli.com
- For those who like their hot peppers hot, Reading Terminal Market stand Carmen’s Famous Italian Hoagie is the place for an authentic hoagies stuffed with all manner of meats. 12th & Arch Streets, (215) 592-7799, readingterminalmarket.org
- The award-winning Chickie’s Italian Deli’s notable menu items include the Original Veggie (baked eggplant, sautéed broccoli rabe, roasted peppers and Chickie’s own blend of sharp provolone) and Tuna Special (olive oil-packed tuna with provolone, roasted peppers, lettuce, tomato and onion). Each delectable sandwich comes on a roll from Sarcone’s Bakery. 1014 Federal Street, (215) 462-8040, chickiesdeli.net
- Among sandwich connoisseurs’ best-of lists, Paesano’s enjoys an elite standing, and the shop’s spin on the Italian hoagie, the Daddy Wad (think provolone, hot and sweet peppers and arugula), is just one reason why. 152 Girard Avenue, (267) 886-9556; 1017 S. 9th Street, (215) 440-0371, paesanosphillystyle.com
- A South Philly shop that’s grown immensely in recent years and now blankets the region, Primo Hoagie has elevated the art form with a long list of hoagie variants, including the Turkey Diablo and the Knuckle Sandwich (provolone and roasted peppers). primohoagies.com
- At Bella Vista hoagie mecca Sarcone’s Deli, freshly baked seeded rolls are lovingly stuffed in combos like the Italian Market (hot capicola, turkey breast, roasted peppers, sharp provolone) and the Junk Yard Special (turkey, prosciutto, sautéed spinach, roasted peppers, mozzarella, sharp provolone). 734 S. 9th Street, (215) 922-1717, sarconesdeli.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA®, formerly known as Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, makes Philadelphia and The Countryside® a premier destination through marketing and image building that increases the number of visitors, the number of nights they stay and the number of things they do in the five-county area.
Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com make up the most-visited website network out of the 10 biggest U.S. cities. Visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.
- Donna Schorr, (215) 599-0782
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