Just because I didn't include Pappa Geno's wicked Philly on my recent list of Top 10 Sandwiches (which was reserved strictly for deli sandwiches) doesn't mean I don't lust after the thing. I do. I have terrible urges for Pappa Geno's at least once a week.
I crave the crunchy bread that's soft on the inside and somehow always manages to stand up against the flood of meat juices and melting cheese and slippery grilled onions and mayonnaise, and the spicy giardiniera that is normally found on a hot Italian beef but does the same neat trick on a wicked Philly of slicing through all that ooze with a sharp, bright heat. It's not a Philly cheesesteak (although you can get those here too); it's so much more than that.
Athough I don't want to keep myself from the wicked Philly -- or from any of Pappa Geno's sandwiches -- I manage to restrain myself for the sake of my waistline and my cholesterol levels. This restraint makes the few Pappa Geno's sandwiches I indulge in that much sweeter. And now, I have a second location in which to indulge in my Pappa Geno's favorites.
After the success of its first location in the Heights often meant lines out the door at peak hours, Pappa Geno's decided to open a second location -- this one outside the Loop. The new Pappa Geno's in Bellaire was quiet on a recent Saturday afternoon around 2 p.m., but the interior tricked out in its signature color scheme of orange, blue and white was as raucous as always.
Behind the counter, owner Paul Mitchell took our order with a smile -- again, just as always -- and we sat down to await a wicked Philly along with a new menu item: Philly cheese fries, which takes Pappa Geno's twiggy fries and smothers them with Cheez Whiz, sliced steak and grilled onions. A few short minutes later, Mitchell walked over with the sandwich, a pile of cheese-covered fries and a recommendation.
"You should try the fries with gravy and hot peppers," he said. "It's a lot better that way." He wants to sell it on the menu that way, but many of his customers are wary of the heat in the giardiniera (which features jalapeño slices alongside the pickled carrots and other vegetables). "You'd think that in Texas..." Mitchell trailed off with a laugh.
At my request, he brought over a side of thick brown gravy and some additional giardiniera. I dumped them quickly atop the pile of seasoned fries and suddenly found myself looking at an odd but intriguing creation. Much the same as Robb Walsh called BB's Tex-Cajun Virgin "a Tex-Mex Cajun version of poutine," I saw in front of me the Philadelphian version of the Canadian dish.
The plate had the requisite fries and brown gravy, but in lieu of cheese curds was the oh-so-Philly Cheez Whiz. Along with the steak and giardiniera, the plate could have been a meal in and of itself -- and I very nearly finished it all in one go. It was a major distraction from the wicked Philly that was cooling on the table, and I was finally able to tear myself away from the fries long enough to take a few bites while it was hot.
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It was a carbon copy of the same wicked Philly I've always enjoyed in the Heights; Pappa Geno's gets high marks for consistency. It also gets high marks at this new location for a cute patio and nice view of Bellaire's small-town vibe near the triangular intersection of Bellaire, Bissonnet and Rice. And although there's no counter seating at the new location (nor a view into the kitchen), you'll still be greeted with the same warm smiles and hot sandwiches on the same blue-and-white checked paper.
While I don't want Pappa Geno's to become a chain any time soon, I'll admit it's very nice to have a second location of a Houston favorite (whether my waistline agrees or not).