Top

dining

Stories

 

Philadelphia Story

Searching for a magic mixof meat, cheese and bread

Excepting, perhaps, the final stop on my cheese steak odyssey, one found via a serendipitous search through the phone book. There, I happened upon the Philly Steakout, another hole-in-a-strip-center concern located on West Bellfort in the middle of nowhere -- from my neighborhood, anyway.

I learned from the Steakout's owners/ servers, a pair of recent immigrants from Philadelphia itself, that they'd opened their shop a mere six months ago. At 9 p.m. one evening, it was just the two of them in a deep, rectangular room occupied by a fry table, a shelf of supplies and a lot of empty floor space. The serving counter is near the front, leaving the customer to share space with a newspaper rack and two slatted benches pushed against the walls. There are no tables. You can eat in, as I did, and partake of a friendly conversation with the proprietors, but the space is really designed for pickup and takeout dining. A Philly cheese steak poster adorns one wall, and posters advertising local rap groups spot the other.

Again, the menu is filled out with hoagies (distinguishable from cheese steaks by the distracting inclusion of lettuce and tomatoes), burgers, triple-decker sandwiches and fried shrimp and fish platters. Here again, the classic Philly cheese steak was augmented with barbecue, jalape–o and chicken variants. Here again, I went after what I came for, the $4.80 original, spiced this time around with the 50 cent addition of banana peppers. It took a little less than ten minutes to fill two orders, and at the end of that time, I knew I had found the Philly grail.

I knew it when I was handed a tall brown paper bag with the end of a gargantuan cheese steak sticking out the top; I knew it when I unwrapped a huge swath of butcher paper and found another huge swath of tin foil holding the hot sandwich; and I knew it for sure when I tasted the steaming goop, held together with a hot, chewy Italian roll. Tons of meat perfectly melded with tons of cheese speckled with tons of onions and the sweet tang of banana peppers. I'm not qualified to judge as a purist, but lately I'd spent a decent amount of time considering the essence of cheese steakdom, and surely, here I beheld that very essence.

They chop their steak pretty fine at the Steakout, which surprised me, since I'd been led to believe that sliced was the traditional way to go, and anything this good, I thought, must surely be the real thing. So I asked the woman behind the counter about it, and she told me that in Philadelphia, well, it just depends. Traditions vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, cart to cart.

"I never really thought too much about what it's supposed to be," she told me. "We fix them the way I always liked them. You could get a cheese steak like this in Philadelphia or it might be different; it just depends on where you go."

Sounds reasonable to me, and since Houston's cheese steakeries are so widely scattered, it only makes sense that the neighborhood rule should apply here as well. But then Houston, more than Philadelphia, is a car town, and as long as mine's running, I think I'll make my cheese steak neighborhood center on West Bellfort.

Jake's Philly Steaks, 2944 Chimney Rock, 781-1962; The Philly Steakery, 2420 Rice Boulevard, 526-2991; Philly Steakout, 8276 West Bellfort, 988-5425.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
All
 
My Voice Nation Help
0 comments
 
Loading...