When in Philly…

Many U.S. cities take culinary pride in a specific dish, Chicago the deep dish pizza, New Orleans the po’ boy, New York the ideal slice and so on. In Philly for the weekend to see my friend GG compete in his 52nd triathlon, the debate over where the best Philly cheesesteak was a hot topic. Located across the street from one another, Pat’s and Geno’s do battle every day, 24 hours a day, for the title of best cheesesteak. The rivalry is fierce, and residents take sides as they do in New York over the best pizza pie, Grimaldi’s or Lombardi’s.

While many other establishments make their own versions of cheesesteaks and hoagies, the mere mention of eating a cheesesteak any where else is considered sheer blasphemy. After a late nite house party, I headed down with a new friend, Julian, to a raucous stomping ground of hungry patrons. It was almost four am, yet there was a formidable line at Pat’s. Looking over at Geno’s, there was much ado about nothing. “That’s because Pat’s is the best, and Pat’s was here first,” a native chimed in.

Geno’s looked like it belonged on Coney Island with the bright lights and big glitz of Vegas. Pat’s was more subdued, sporting an aluminum diner façade and steely cool vibe. The excitement could not be contained. The line was electric, tongues were salivating. “You have to know how to order,” my line mate declared, her enthusiasm unabashed. Cynthia was her name, a pretty Italian woman who had just had a night on the town with her friend Anna. “You have to say wiz with of wiz without,” Cynthia instructed. The “wiz” being cheese wiz, of course, and the “with” signifying onions. I had my moment, ordered and received my hero of gold.

There was a scramble for a table, but my new friends saved us seats. There really was no speaking from that point on, just incredulous looks of glee and satisfaction. Cynthia and I basically inhaled our sandwiches. I almost went for number two, if not for the line. We chatted about travel and told stories, and enjoyed the starry night. All walks of life were in queue, all races and classes represented, all united by the hunger of Philly’s best. The city of brotherly love was manifest, all over a cheesesteak.

I could not imagine Geno’s being better, but I decided to give it a try the next day. Without going into too much detail, in fact I can’t really put my finger on it, the slight edge goes to Pat’s, maybe because it was my first love, or perhaps because as Cynthia opined, “The bread is just much fresher.” I found the bread to be of similar quality. The differences are in the cut and flavor the meats. At Geno’s the meat is sliced thin. At Pat’s the meat is served in chunks. At Geno’s I found the sauce to be a little watery. At Pat’s everything was just right. You can’t argue taste. Those who love Geno’s are just as correct as those who love Pat’s. For me it’s Pat’s and that’s all she wrote.

Back in New York, I am savoring a cheesesteak, and the joints that sell it here don’t really cut it. I’ll try to make my own, but until the next time, I’ll be dreaming of Pat’s.

A gelato a day…

While spring still lingers a bit with late showers and evening breezes, I took the rare opportunity to see what all the hype about gelato on the upper West side was all about. Enough has been written about Grom, the Italian gelato chain that has finally made it stateside, that I feared I would be disappointed. It is easy to remember while in Rome, ordering that delicious gelato, leaving the counter, and trying to eat that cone as quickly as possible just so I could go back to buy a second one.

A good international product should transport you back in time to the place where you first enjoyed the delicacy, and Grom delivers.

Grom proclaims poetically about its quality and its scruples; only use the best raw artisanal materials to produce a genuine superior product. This means fresh fruit in season, no color or additives, and even the use of San Bernardo mineral water. Eggs come from organic chickens and coffee beans from Central America. The result is astounding.

Of the flavors I have tried, I found the Gianduja the most interesting. It had a chocolaty texture, but was refined and robust. The pistachio was superb, and the stracciatella outstanding. Because of Grom’s technique, you basically cannot choose a bad flavor. My least favorite flavors were the tiramisu and zabaione, but I suspect that was just merely a matter of taste.

It was not hot enough to try a granita, but out of the sorbets, the lemon was a knockout. The lemon is from the Amalfi coast, and I was blown away by the intensity of lemon. In East Harlem, there was an ice shop called Rex’s who would only open if it was 85 degrees or hotter. His lemon sorbet was tops. I think that Grom’s actually ekes out the number one spot here.

Grom offers containers to go, and you’ll find the prices extremely high, but you get what you pay for. If the line is short, and you’ve got ten dollars jingling around in your pocket, indulge yourself, you’re worth it.