Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The King Of Cheese Steaks

Note: I originally ran this in my other blog...."Keith's Space "on November 10th 2008..Just thought I'd run it again for the readers of this blog:

A few days ago, this man (who I can't name here for legal reasons) who runs a steak and hoagie shop in West Philly that I patronize, told me that his great-grandfather was the "King of Cheese Steaks." A strange boast, but okay, if he wants to say that... It's fine with me... It's not like I haven't heard it before.

I have always come into his establishment around lunch time or on a Saturday afternoon and have ordered my personal favorite, a cheese steak hoagie. He uses that thick Italian bread, slathers mayonnaise across the top, spreads lettuce across it, drapes freshly cut tomatoes, raw onions, and pickles across it, and then adds the chopped-up steak with Cheese Whiz melted on it to the mix. If you live in this area, you'll find that this is the norm for most of these type establishments.

While I was sitting there waiting, the man's great-grandson (who is about my age) confided to me that his great-grandfather actually invented what has become a Philadelphia staple... the steak sandwich. Of course, I thought... he must be kidding. You can go to any neighborhood in North, South, or West Philadelphia, Roxborough, Manayunk, Mt Airy, or Germantown and find a neighborhood steak and hoagie shop... they will tell you the same thing useless they are Asian, Greek, or Black (because then, they know that you know they are lying).

If you venture to South Street, you'll find places like GENO's, Jim's Steaks, and Pat Oliveri's House of Steaks that will brag that they make the best cheese steaks in Philadelphia and their owner is the true"King of Cheese Steaks". This is all debatable. So, I asked this guy to tell me the story of how his great-grandfather invented the steak sandwich and this is what he said.

He told me that his great-grandfather, an Italian immigrant, had a hot dog stand down near the docks, which is now known as "Penn's Landing". Several other men had hot dog stands down there, competing for the dollars of the longshoremen, bricklayers, etc. His great-grandfather needed something to give his stand an edge over the other hot dog stands so, he brought some steaks with him one day, cut them up a little bit, and tossed them on his grill. He cooked the chopped up steak and tossed it onto a hoagie roll. The smell of the steak brought some curious customers over to his hot dog stand and voila! The steak sandwich was born! A little later, he melted some sharp cheese, added that to his steak sandwich and thus, the cheese steak was born.

Of course, this is a preposterous story and very much like the one Pat Oliveri III (of Pat's House of Steaks) told me once. Needless to say, I think I believe Pat Oliveri. I don't believe that this guy's great-grandfather invented the cheese steak but, I do believe that "somebody" probably invented the cheese steak the way the told it and the story just got passed around and embellished over time. Like the fish story about the fish that got away, the fish gets bigger each time the story is retold.

Don't get me wrong... it's a great story to hear while you're munching on a cheese steak, some french fries, and drinking a Coke. Of course, these are all of the things that you're not supposed to be eating because, unlike when you were 17 years old and reed thin, you're not reed thin now and the weight will stay on you and make you ashamed to look at yourself in the mirror sometimes. (At age 17, I was 6' 1+1/2" and 146 pounds... today, I'm about 215 pounds.)
Anyway, I asked the man who was telling me this story why his great-grandfather didn't go and get a patent? Why is the family still working in the three steak shops that they owned and, more importantly, why they all weren't swimming in dough right about now? Then, he told me another preposterous story about how his great-grandfather was basically swindled out of his "invention" by the owner of one of the steak shops I mentioned above. Not Likely.

Hmmm, this story is still suspect... but, still a great story to hear when you're eating and not thinking about health and weight issues. So, who really invented the cheese steak sandwich? Who is really the "King of Cheese Steaks"? I don't know... but, I'd love to thank him/her for a great eating idea.
(Can anyone from the Baltimore-DC area tell me about your famous Pit Beef sandwich? Believe it or not, I actually came close to having one when I attended my cousin's engagement party a few weeks ago but, the food was catered so, I didn't have the pleasure. I'd love to hear about it. Holla back!)
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Update: After completing this post, a funny thing happened when I did the image search for a cheese steak... I actually stumbled upon the true history of the cheese steak and it looks like Pat was telling the truth!


Keith said...

After I created "Good Foodie"...I thought back to this post, I wrote back when I only had the one blog...and I always thought that this was a "Good Foodie" type of story... I hope everyone enjoys it!

Jazzy said...

Great Story and Great sammich!

Toni said...

I remember when you originally published this in "Keith's Space"..Nice to read it again.

Food Safety Tips
Protect yourself against food-borne illnesses.

1. Use a "refrigerator thermometer" to keep your food stored at a safe temperature (below 40 degrees fahrenheit).

Cold temperatures slow the growth of bacteria. Ensuring that your refrigerator temperature stays at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder is one of the most effective ways to reduce your risk of food-borne illness. You can buy a refrigerator/freezer thermometer at appliance stories, home centers (i.e. Home Depot), and kitchen stores including online ones, such as

2. Defrost food in the refrigerator, the microwave, or in cold water... never on the counter!

Perishable foods should never be thawed on the counter for longer than two hours because, while the center of the food may remain frozen, the outer surface may enter the Danger Zone, the range of temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees fahrenheit, in which bacteria multiply rapidly. If you’re short on time, use the microwave or you can thaw meat and poultry in airtight packaging in cold water. Change the water every half-hour so it stays cold and use the thawed food immediately.

3. Always use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/fish and cooked foods/fresh produce.

Bacteria from uncooked meat, poultry, and fish can contaminate cooked foods and fresh produce. An important way to reduce this risk is to use separate cutting boards for raw meat/poultry/ fish, and cooked foods/fresh produce.

4. Always cook meat to proper temperatures, using a calibrated instant-read thermometer to make sure.

One effective way to prevent illness is to use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat, poultry, and egg dishes. The USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures are as follows:

* Beef, veal, and lamb (steaks and roasts), fish - 145 degrees fahrenheit

* Pork and ground beef - 160 degrees fahrenheit

* Poultry - 165 degrees fahrenheit.

Cook meats like roasts and steaks to lower temperatures, closer to medium-rare, so that they retain their moisture. It is recommended that those who are at high risk for developing food-borne illness (i.e. pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborns, young children, older adults, people with weakened immune systems, or certain chronic illnesses) should follow the USDA guidelines.

5. Avoid unpasteurized/raw milk and cheeses made from unpasteurized milk that are aged less than 60 days.

Raw milk is milk from cows, sheep, or goats that has not been pasteurized (heated to a very high temperature for a specific length of time) to kill harmful bacteria that may be present. These bacteria, which include salmonella, E. coli and listeria, can cause serious illness and sometimes even death. The bacteria in raw milk can be especially dangerous to pregnant women, children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems or chronic illnesses. Raw milk cheeses aged 60 days or longer are okay, since the salt and acidity of the cheese-making process make for a hostile environment to pathogens.

6. Never eat "runny" eggs or foods, such as cookie dough, that contain raw eggs.

Even eggs that have clean, intact shells may be contaminated with salmonella, so it’s important to cook eggs thoroughly until both the yolk and the white are firm. Casseroles and other dishes containing eggs should be cooked to 160 degrees fahrenheit and you can use an instant-read food thermometer to check. Eggs should always be cooked fully and those who are at high risk for developing foodborne illness (pregnant women and their unborn babies, newborns, young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems or certain chronic illnesses should follow the USDA guidelines. If you can’t resist runny eggs or sampling cookie batter, use pasteurized eggs. They’re found near other eggs in large supermarkets.

7. Always wash your hands in warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds before handling food and after touching raw meat, poultry, or eggs.

You can pick up a lot of bacteria out in the world, so it’s important to always wash your hands before you eat or prepare food. You should also wash your hands after touching any uncooked meat, poultry, fish, or eggs, as the bacteria from these foods can contaminate cooked foods and fresh produce. Use soap and warm water and wash thoroughly for at least 20 seconds.

8. Always heat leftover foods to 165 degrees fahrenheit.

The USDA recommends heating all cooked leftovers to 165 degrees fahrenheit in order to kill all potentially dangerous bacteria.

9. Never eat meat, poultry, eggs, or sliced fresh fruits and vegetables that have been left out for more than two hours or more than one hour in temperatures hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you leave perishable foods out of the refrigerator or freezer for more than two hours they may enter the Danger Zone—the unsafe temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, in which bacteria multiply rapidly.

10. Whenever there’s a food recall, check products stored at home to make sure they are safe.

You should discard any food that’s been recalled because it’s associated with the outbreak of a food-borne illness. But, according to a survey conducted by Rutgers University during the fall of 2008, only about 60% of Americans search their homes for foods that have been recalled because of contamination. For more information on food recalls, visit the website

Cavier & Vodka
Courtesy of The Lady (Bug) of the Household