Philadelphia, PA - Jim Pappas' cheesesteak adventures began in 2018 as a hobby. The goal was to eat as many as 1,000 different cheesesteaks from different restaurants. Although Jim initially planned to eat 250 cheesesteaks at Philadelphia restaurants, his goals quickly increased. The adventure was a hit with audiences, and he has since appeared in FOX29, PhillyBite Magazine, and The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Top Five Memories From Eating 1,000 Different Cheesesteaks
5. Mattei Family Pizza, 1260 Point Breeze Ave, Philadelphia.
Unfortunately, they may not have survived the pandemic.
I ended up in Point Breeze on a cool November evening. I didn't have any cheesesteaks on my go-to list in that area, so I googled 'pizza near me' -Sidebar - I googled 'pizza near me' because no matter where you are in the world if you google 'cheesesteaks near me' you will get Pat's, Geno's and Jim's. - Mattei Family Pizza came up, and I saw they had a Mexican cheesesteak.
I went to Mattei Family Pizza and got the Mexican Cheesesteak. It had a delicious flavor. At best, the meat was average, but I could not stop eating this Cheesesteak. The roll was toasted and had some kind of Mexican spicy sauce on it. Spicy food and my stomach usually don't get along, but this was a nice spicy blend that was spicy without trying to kill my stomach. The spicy toasted roll kept me eating this Cheesesteak. Which got me thinking about the roll's roll in a cheesesteak. Before this roll, I thought the roll was an anonymous role player in the Cheesesteak that you only heard about when it was bad. Like the news doesn't report on airplanes landing safely. They only report on the ones that crash. After this Cheesesteak, I fully agree that the roll has an important role in the Cheesesteak.
But I still don't think the roll can make a bad cheesesteak good or raise the level of any cheesesteak. Using Mattei's as the example, I loved the roll, but I don't think any more highly of the overall Cheesesteak. Grading it as a cheesesteak; It was an average at best Cheesesteak with a great roll. Grading it as food, it was a tremendous toasted roll with a spicy meat cheese mixture in it. I believe the roll is important, but the meat is the star of the Cheesesteak. My belief was confirmed several months later when I had a cheesesteak with great meat. The meat made it a great cheesesteak, period; no need to even mention the other parts. I submit to you; The meat puts the Cheesesteak in a category, i.e., bad/good/great. The roll, cheese, and balance of components determine the order of the cheesesteaks within their bad/good/great category.
4. Tin Pan Alley Tavern, 2231 Huntingdon Pike, Huntingdon Valley, PA.
This was a fun stop. If I still lived in Huntingdon Valley, this would be my day drinking spot. Tin Pan Alley is a neighborhood/local/dive bar. You will hear in the video it was a lively midweek day drinking crowd. I was with amigo Dan. We were talking to Mark, the chef. We asked him to make our Cheesesteak how he makes a cheesesteak for himself. This has worked out very well in the past. Asking non-chefs, not so much. One of the most common questions I get is, 'what makes a great cheesesteak?' My answer is, 'the grill person putting brotherly love into the cheesesteak.' Supporting this statement on the negative side, the three worst cheesesteaks I had were grill person error/having a bad day,/not paying attention.
Additionally, I like to think if the chef is making something they like, they may be a little more engaged. We got our Cheesesteak. We loved it. We were shocked at how tender and juicy the meat was. Mark came out of the kitchen; I told him we loved the Cheesesteak. We especially loved the tender and juicy meat. I asked him who supplied the meat? He laughed and said he uses the same frozen Sysco meat everyone else does. I asked him how he got it to be tender and juicy. He said he puts the fried onions (and anything else going on the Cheesesteak) on the grill, puts the frozen meat on top of them, and then covers everything. The meat is thawing, and everything is cooking in the meat's juice. All of the moisture you see in the video is from the meat. Thank you, Mark, and everyone that stands behind a hot grill putting brotherly love into our cheesesteaks.
3. Charlie's Roast Pork, 1301 S 3rd St, Philadelphia, PA.
One of the things I noticed early in the adventure was that people were uninterested in the man taking pictures of his cheesesteaks. I was in some rough places, in bars using my flash and standing in the street with my Cheesesteak on the trunk of my car, and no one seemed to care. On several occasions, people would move away from me. The one exception to this is South Philly. In South Philly, I was asked, Why are you taking a picture of that ('that' not 'my') truck? And another time, Why are you taking pictures of those ('those' not 'my') trash cans? Sidebar - both times, the person was asking me why I was taking pictures of 'those' turned out to be the owners of 'those,' and both went on to tell me why they asked. Sidebar, different stories for a different time. - Anyway, I ended up at Charlie's Roast Pork in South Philly on a lovely November day.
It was one of those days wherein the shade was cold, but in the sun, it was nice. It was past my nap time, so I was a little cranky. Since Charlie's has Roast Pork in its name, I got my Cheesesteak with Broccoli Rabe and Provolone. Triple Sidebar - I think it is the sign of a good chef if they can make good broccoli rabe (and sauces). - I took my Cheesesteak to an outside table so I could sit in the sun and because I didn't want to talk to anybody. I started taking my pictures, and sure enough, I could see this little bald head peeking out from the doorway out of the corner of my eye. I turned my back to the door. But it is South Philly, so they had to come outside and see what I was doing. It was Joe, he had just made my Cheesesteak, 'How's youse doing?' Me, 'I'm good. Thank you.' Joe, 'Youse can eat inside.' Me, 'Thank you, but I want to be in the sun.' Joe, 'so why youse taking pictures of the cheesesteak?' Joe makes a great broccoli rabe, so we became fast friends. Since that day, Charlie's Roast Pork has been my favorite place to get a traditional cheesesteak. Sharing a building with Pennsport beer boutique helps a little. How much does overall experience mean to you?
2. Ugly Oyster Drafthaus, 21 S 5th, Reading, PA.
I ended up in Reading one afternoon right before Christmas. My first thought was, 'why does God hate me?' My 2nd thought was, 'I want to go home.' I had a few Reading cheesesteaks on my go-to list. I don't get to Reading often, so I told myself that I needed to put on my big boy pants and get several (yes, several, ugh) cheesesteaks. I liked the first place. The second place, not so much. It had gotten dark, and I really wanted to go home. Ugly Oyster Drafthaus was supposed to be my third stop. I saw they had a beer. I promised to buy myself a beer. So I dragged myself to Ugly Oyster Drafthaus. There is a municipal parking lot across the street. Trying to get home as quickly as possible, I parked in there instead of looking for a spot on the street. I went to the pay kiosk. I pressed start, and a message popped up on the screen, 'Free parking after 6 pm courtesy of Reading Parking Authority.'
Being frugal made me very, very happy. Ugly Oyster Drafthaus has a very cool heavy old nautical wood theme. I sat at the bar. A woman was reading a book at the bar. The bartender was friendly and chatty. They have a nice draft selection and full bar. I was having a tough time deciding what I wanted to drink. I would ask the bartender about a drink, she would go wait on someone, I'd ask about a different drink, she'd go wait on someone. This happened several times. I finally decided on a drink. When she delivered my drink, I asked for a menu. She gave me a menu and went about her business. At the top of the steak sandwich section, 'add peanuts $.75.' I called the bartender over. I said, 'I apologized for taking a long time to pick a drink, and if you wanted me to leave, you could have told me to leave instead of giving me a fake menu.' She replied, 'What are you talking about?' I said, '75 cents to add peanuts to a cheesesteak!? That's ridiculous! This is a fake menu that you give to annoying customers.' She laughed and said, 'we put peanuts on our cheesesteaks, and they are amazing.'
One night a new cook was working, and he put peanuts on my Cheesesteak. I said, 'LIAR!' She said, 'when I started working here, I thought the same thing and never got peanuts on my cheesesteaks. I decided to give them a try, and now I always get peanuts on my cheesesteaks.' I paid 75 cents and got peanuts on my Cheesesteak. It was life-altering. They are sauteed but crunchy. The urinal in the men's room was also very impressive. You can see it in the video. Yes, I take pictures of cool bathrooms. I also like crab meat in my Cheesesteak. Surf and Turf Cheesesteak. Genius! What unacceptable food do you put on your Cheesesteak?
1. John's Roast Pork, 14 Snyder Ave, Philadelphia, PA.
My favorite memory from eating 1,000 different cheesesteaks in the last four years is a conversation I had with a man about 'favorite cheesesteaks.' I know John's Roast Pork is a James Beard award winner, included in most people's top 5 favorite cheesesteaks list. The owner is very generous to the community. The day I went to John's, I couldn't give them a high score. I am pretty certain that one or more people called out sick that day. I get a lot of grief for my John's Roast Pork score.
One particular day, I met a man who said, 'John's Roast Pork is one of my top three favorite cheesesteaks. Why do you give it a low grade?' I asked him, 'Why is John's Roast Pork one of your top three favorite cheesesteaks?' He said, 'when I was little, the first time my dad and I did something together, we went to a car show in south Philly and then went to get cheesesteaks at John's.' I said,' and you probably stood in line between that same metal chain.' He said, 'yes, and it was great. It was crowded, so my dad was holding my hand and keeping really close to him.' I said, 'my dad didn't wait in lines. If there was a line, we went somewhere else.' We then talked about dad for several minutes. Cheesesteaks aren't about a roll, meat, and cheese.
Cheesesteaks are about the happy memories they trigger. 95% of the time I talk to someone about their favorite Cheesesteak, I will hear about my dad's favorite place, the back of mom's station wagon, or standing in line with friends after a night out. When I started my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure, my quest for the ultimate Cheesesteak, people told me that I was wasting my time because everyone knows where to get a great cheesesteak. They were half correct; everyone knows where to get a great cheesesteak and usually has a personal reason why it is great. Luckily most people like telling their cheesesteak stories. I enjoyed hearing every story. The adventure has been a lot of fun, and I have met many great people. Hopefully, I have inspired someone to get out of their usual routine and try something new.
March Cheesesteak Madness is coming soon!! If you want to be a judge, reach out to me. The People's Bracket and online voting will be here on Phillybite.com
Share This Article on Social Media
The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure - Hi, my name is Jim Pappas, and I have eaten hundreds of different cheesesteaks in the last year. A year ago, on May 16, 2018, I started my Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure to find the ultimate cheesesteak. To see more great cheesesteak places, check out my website at The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure.