I never intended to eat a Philly cheesesteak the other day. Or ever, really.
It's not that I had some ethical opposition to thinly sliced steak, melted cheese and a doughy roll. I like all those things. It's just that I like them separately, and I didn't see how they could be improved upon when combined. I like my steak medium-rare and in tenderloin or short rib form. Why would you cut it up and overcook it?
But it happens that a friend and I found ourselves at Hughie's on an evening when, for whatever reason, the electricity went out.
"We have beer," they told us. "If you want food, we're closed."
My friend knew the neighborhood better than me, so he came up with an alternative.
"How do you feel about cheesesteak?" he asked.
I shrugged. "Never had it."
He balked. "We're getting cheesesteak."
We headed to Pappa Geno's right across the street from Hughie's, tucked into a corner of a strip center near the intersection of Ella and TC Jester. It's a small space, garishly decorated in Whataburger orange and white with just a few booths and bar seats. The menu is short and sweet: A few sandwiches, some sides and seven different Philly varieties.
My friend stuck with the traditional "Philly style steak and cheese," while I figured go big or go home and ordered the "Philly works." Go big was right.
Each sandwich is about a foot long and is overflowing with chopped steak and melted cheese. In the case of my friend's sandwich, the melted cheese was actually Cheez Whiz. Mine came topped with provolone grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, green bell peppers and mayo.
"What's that white shit on your sandwich?" my friend asked, gesturing to the provolone. "You can't get a Philly with white cheese." Apparently I'm still learning.
I'm please to say that, as a food writer, I've now crossed another you-should-probably-eat-this-before-you-die dish off my list (balut and Rocky Mountain oysters are still there, for the record). I'm ashamed to say it took me this long to finally try a Philly cheesesteak, especially now that I know I kinda like the artery-clogging sammich.
I hear that as far as cheesesteaks go, Pappa Geno's is about as legit as you can get in Houston. But I think in order to truly say I've conquered the cheesesteak, I'm gonna have to get one in Philly. Until that time, Geno is my man.
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