March 24th is National Cheesesteak Day, celebrating the fourth-most influential hallmark of Philadelphia—after the Declaration of Independence, the Liberty Bell and Ben Franklin. (Some might re-order this to put cheesesteak first.)
What is cheesesteak? It’s not a piece of cheese slapped onto a steak, like a cheeseburger. Rather, it’s a chopped fantasy of flavors that many Philadelphians revere as their favorite fast food.
Cheesesteak (photo #1) is made of thin slices of grilled steak, covered with melted cheese and served on a long roll. Traditionally, it includes grilled peppers and onions or hot cherry peppers.
It has been personalized with different ingredient options at different cheesesteak emporia.
And it’s become a fusion food, like the Korean bulgogi-hot chile cheesesteak in photo #4. Or embrace onto other ideas, like vegan “cheesesteak” (photo #5) or Buffalo chicken cheese “steak.”
When the grill comes out for the season, consider a DIY cheesesteak party. It’s fun to build your own (blue cheese, anyone?) and see what others have created.
You can make it a gourmet cheesesteak party with better steak, better cheese, better bread and toppings (e.g. caramelized onions).
baguette, French, Hero/hoagie, Italian,
According to VisitPhilly.com, Philadelphia’s official tourism site, the cheesesteak in the 1930s by Pat Olivieri.
Olivieri was a hot dog vendor in South Philly. One day, he expanded his menu by adding some sliced beef to the grill. A cab driver was lured by the aroma of grilling meat, and ordered a steak sandwich, which he received on an Italian roll.
By the next day, the buzz about the sandwich had spread among cabbies; locals were attracted to it; and shortly Olivieri opened a shop on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, called Pat’s King of Steaks, to sell his steak sandwich.
But it was still not a cheesesteak!
According to nephew Frank Olivieri Jr., the cheese was added in the 1940s by an otherwise unspectacular employee named Joe Lorenza, who added slices of provolone to the sandwich [source].
Eventually, he added cheese to the recipe.
In 1966 a rival shop across the street: Geno’s. While Geno’s was not the first to add cheese to the sandwich it is credited with creating the Whiz, using Cheez Wiz instead of sliced cheese. (Frankly, we prefer something more refined, like gruyère.)
The friendly rivalry wages on decade after decade, as do the arguments among customers as to whose cheesesteak is better.
Word spread rapidly through the cabbie rumor mill, and drivers from all over the city soon visited Olivieri for steak sandwiches. Olivieri eventually opened up Pat’s King of Steaks on 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue. manager Joe Lorenza, according to Philadelphia Magazine.
By the way, if you’re in town, both Pat’s and Geno’s are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Other cheesesteak vendors have popped up developed their own loyal clientele.