Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The whippoorwill of freedom

This Sunday was maybe like one degree cooler than this Saturday but otherwise exactly as beautiful, so maybe you should go check out my description of Saturday to get in the right frame of mind for this blog post. After a breakfast of everything at the farmer's market braised in bacon fat, Jeff and I set off again on our bikes, this time making stops at Green Apple Books to buy the only remaining 2011 calendar that will fit at my desk, Judahlicious to score a smoothie, Ocean Beach to forage succulent plants and later charge $80 for them at our pop-up restaurant, SF State to relive Jeff's college days, and, finally, Phillies, to relive the cheesesteak experience I have every time I go home.

I realized that there just isn't a culture around hoagies in California. Sandwiches, sure, but hoagies, subs, whatever you want to call them? Not really. I was thinking about the last sandwich I had in Harrisburg at Philadelphia Steaks & Hoagies and I realized that I had previously thought of a cheesesteak only as a gestalt, a fatty tasty bomb of meat and provolone and onions. Now, in the absence of cheesesteaks, I realized that what I really loved about it was the bread--perfectly crusty and a little chewy, with just the right tang to cut through the richness of meat and cheese. Excellent.

So I did a little research into cheesesteak options in San Francisco and discovered that there are (at least) two places that import their bread directly from Philadelphia--Phillies and Phat Philly. And looking at the menus of those two, you can just tell that one is authentic and awesome and that the other one is some stupid yuppie joint with Newcastle beer cheese reduction instead of Cheez Whiz. So, even though it was in the Crocker-Amazon, a neighborhood of San Francisco that causes even five-year residents to tilt their heads and say, "Where?", we set out to sample the steaks at the former.

How was it? Well, it definitely looks like a cheesesteak place, the bathroom really looks like a cheesesteak place, and the onion rings are bad--which, for a cheesesteak place, to borrow a turn of phrase from David Lebovitz, c'est correct. Because cheesesteak place onion rings are always bad, I usually grab chips with my cheesesteak. However, as fate would have it, it's the other cheesesteak place that also imports Herr's potato chips. Well, start importing Middleswarth chips and then we'll talk.

And the steaks? Well, maybe I will disqualify myself as a cheesesteak judge if I tell you that my default order is a pizza steak with provolone. I can't quite hang with the Whiz, and I've always been a tang-loving kind of a guy, so that extra little bit of zip from the tomato sauce makes it just right for me. The sauce at Phillies was a little sweet and a little too abundant for me, but everything else was solid. I tried a bite of Jeff's cheesesteak with no sauce, American cheese, and hot peppers--and, well, that was even better, more purely cheesy, crisper bread.

Overall, very good cheesesteaks, not quite the same quality--or the same nostalgia--that you'd get on the East coast, but definitely something to put into the rotation every few months. And, hey, you have to bike ten miles to get to this magical land of Crocker-Amazon, so your net calories are basically zero anyway.

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