Philadelphia, PA - March Cheesesteak Madness is a 64 Cheesesteak entry bracket-style tournament (same as NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament). The cheesesteaks are broken into four regions; Philadelphia (Philly), Delaware County (Delco), Other Counties region (primarily Montgomery, Bucks & Chester counties), and New Jersey/Delaware region.
2022 March Cheesesteak Madness Judge’s Bracket
We have one group of 64 entries but two Champions; A People’s Champion and a Judge’s Champion. The People’s champion was chosen by online voting. The voting is done on PhillyBite.com. The people’s bracket is complete, and the 2022 March Cheesesteak Madness People’s Champion is Donkey’s Place. The judges are eating their way through their brackets. They have gotten to the sweet 16. Here are the Sweet 16, the group of 4 cheesesteaks they started in, and how they got here.
The Philly Region
Tony & Nick’s (formerly The Original Tony Luke's), Jaxx’s Steaks and Taproom (formerly Charlie’s Roast Pork), and Avenue Steaks and Cleavers. The first round for this group was relatively quiet, with Jaxx beating newcomer Avenue Steaks while Tony & Nick beat Cleavers. The biggest upset in the tournament came in the second round when 14 seed Tony & Nick beat the tournament’s number one seed, Jaxx’s Steaks and Taproom. I am interested in seeing how Tony & Nick do in the Sweet 16.
Cafe Carmela, Datillo’s Deli, Joe’s Steaks & Soda shop, and Cook and Shaker. This group was the new guard vs the old guard. Cafe Carmela is a relative newcomer to the cheesesteak world. Datillo’s Deli and Joe’s Steaks & Soda shop have served great food to several generations of Northeast Philadelphians. Cook and Shaker add some chef touches to their cheesesteak. The judges were traditionalists, and Joe’s made quick work of Cook and Shaker in the 1st round. The other matches were closer, with Cafe Carmela coming out on top.
The Rook, John’s Roast Pork, Gilben’s Bakery & Specialty Sandwiches, and Dalessandro’s. Many people would consider The Rook winning this group of 4 as the tournament's biggest upset. John’s Roast Pork and Dalessandro’s are on pretty much every ‘top cheesesteak’ list. Dalessandro’s had an off day, and John’s Roast Pork made quick work of them in the 1st round. Gilben’s makes their Garlic bread rolls. The judges had a hard time with the registration, and The Rook got by Gilben’s easily in the 1st round. The Rook won a split decision over John’s Roast Pork. One judge loved The Rook’s roll and seasoning on the meat. Another judge loved the overall construction of JRP’s cheesesteak. The third judge gave the victory to The Rook, with the cheese being the deciding factor.
George, Angelo’s Pizzeria, Steve’s Prince of Steaks, and DelRossi’s Cheesesteak Company. George, straight out of the Reading Terminal Market. George won the people’s bracket in last year’s March Cheesesteak Madness. Even with the previous year’s win, I think most Cheesesteak pundits would have given ByGeorge less than 30% to make it out of the early rounds. I have a new respect for Steve’s Prince of Steaks, but ByGeorge beat them in the 1st round with a better blending of meat, cheese, fried onions, and mushrooms. Angelo’s had a terrible day and barely got past DelRossi’s in the 1st round. In the 2nd round, ByGeorge had a terrible roll day, but Angelo’s had a worse meat and cheese day, so ByGeorge moved on to the Sweet 16.
The Delco Region
Michael’s Sandwich Shop, Wolf’s Superior Sandwiches, Phil & Jim’s, and Liberty Steaks & Hoagies. Michael’s sandwich Shop since 1977. I have been getting cheesesteaks from this location for over 50 years. Wolf’s Superior Sandwiches used a big greasy (good greasy) cheesesteak to beat last year’s Judge’s Champion Phil & Jim’s in the first round. Liberty has a special place in many hearts, but Michael got by them quickly in the 1st round. The 2nd round was close, but Michael’s used a very good traditional cheesesteak to get by Wolf’s and get into the Sweet 16.
Big Al’s Eatery, DiFabio’s Market & Tap, The Original Thunderbird, and Providence Pizza. Big Al’s Eatery is a newcomer to the Delco cheesesteak scene. Big Al beat one of my favorites from last year in the first round, DiFabio’s Market & Tap. The Original Thunderbird, a pillar in the Delco cheesesteak scene since 1956, won a different newcomer, Providence Pizza, in their 1st round match. In the 2nd round, after a close game, The Original Thunderbird passed the torch (for one year, maybe??) to Big Al’s Eatery.
Delco Steaks, Town Tap, Mark Anthony's Paisanos, and Drexel Hill Style Pizza. Delco Steaks, what can I say that hasn’t already been said? Four different styles of cheesesteaks in this group. Delco Steaks has been doing a great job since it opened (at the beginning of a worldwide pandemic). Delco Steaks made a great cheesesteak for the early rounds. They ran into a buzz saw with all due respect to the other cheesesteaks, and Delco Steaks steamrolled their way into the Sweet 16.
Johnny Paisano’s, Coco’s Pizza, Leo’s Steaks & Doc’s Deli. Johnny paisanos are among the best cheesesteaks that very few people talk about. Johnny is a celebrity chef. The judge judged this group ‘blind’ because one of the judges disclosed that one of the four cheesesteaks (not Johnny’s) was his favorite cheesesteak. These are similar cheesesteaks. Judging blind was agonizing for the judges but fun for me. The matches were close, but Johnny was the clear winner and moved on to the Sweet 16.
The Other County's Region
Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana, Trappe tavern, Goomba’s and Pudge Steaks and Hoagies. Collegeville Italian Bakery Pizzeria Napoletana is best known for its brick pizza oven and all of the Philadelphia celebrities pictured taking a pizza out of that oven. Collegeville Bakery started the tournament in a tough group of 4. Trappe Tavern hosted George Washington. Pudge’s is a longtime Montgomery county favorite. Goomba’s is the cheesesteak darling of Colmar, PA. Collegeville had a tough 1st round match against Goomba’s. Then got past Pudge’s relatively quickly in the 2nd round to earn a spot in the sweet 16.
Lorenzo’s Steaks, Marrone’s Deli, Joey’s Pizza, and Kildare’s Irish Pub. Lorenzo’s Steaks in West Chester, not to be confused with Lorenzo Bros Pizza, has new owners. Western Chester County, known to some of us as Pennsyl-tucky, has some delicious cheesesteaks. Joey’s Pizza, Thorndale, made a very good all-around cheesesteak and was a tough 1st round match for Lorenzo’s. Marrone’s Deli, West Grove, has a very good traditional (roll, meat, and cheese) cheesesteak. In a close match, Lorenzo’s Steaks beat Marrone’s Deli in a split decision to get into the Sweet 16.
Mama’s Pizzeria, Gullifty’s, Workhorse Brewing, and Anthony’s Pizza and Italian Restaurant. Mama’s Pizzeria, I forgot how good Mama’s is. Mama’s may be the only place in this group known for their cheesesteak. Gullifty’s and Workhorse Brewing was a 1st round match of businesses that make their own very good beer cheese. - Sidebar - I hope beer cheese becomes a ‘thing.’ - Workhorse Brewing won the match. Anthony’s makes a good cheesesteak, but Mama’s Pizzeria brought her A game. Mama’s done quick work of Anthony’s and then got by Workhorse on her way to the Sweet 16.
Curly’s Comfort Food, Don Giovanni’s Classic Bakery, DaVinci’s Brick Oven Pizza, and Oven Bros. Curly’s Comfort Food, to quote one of the female judges, ‘Yes girls, you do need all of that meat.’ For roll lovers, Don Giovanni & DaVinci bake their rolls. Oven Bros finish bakes their rolls. Curly’s and DaVinci’s won their 1st round matches relatively easily to set up a rematch from last year. Curly’s vs. DaVinci’s, Brady vs. Manning?? In a split decision, Curly’s won the rematch, avenged last year’s loss, and moved on to the Sweet 16.
The NJ/DE Region
Chick’s Deli, Donkey’s Place, Amato Bros, and Dar’s Steaks. Donkey’s Place represented the NJ/DE region in the final four last year. Dar’s Steaks has been coming on strong for the last couple of years. Amato Bros, second-generation cheesesteak maker. Donkey’s Place didn’t bring their A-game this year, and Amato Bros beat them in the first round. Chick defeated Dars in a close 1st round match. Chick’s beat a similar cheesesteak from Amato Bros in a close game to move to the Sweet 16.
Zoagie’s. Italian Kitchen, Peter & Sons, and Steak out. Zoagie’s is a different breed of cheesesteak. Zoagie bottomless fries the roll and adds special Zoagie sauce. Cheesesteaks like Zoagies do well or very poorly depending on how traditional the Judges like their cheesesteaks. On my 1st best list, Italian Kitchen was named the top Traditional Cheesesteak. Peter of Peter & Sons worked at Geno’s in the 1980s. Steak out makes an excellent big tasty cheesesteak. The early round judges were open-minded, and Zoagies rode his deep-fried roll into the Sweet 16 relatively quickly.
Lillo’s Tomato Pies, Mama’s Meatballs, Cockadoodle Dan’s, and Meatheadz. I named Lillo’s Tomato Pies my Rookie of the Year in my 20 Best in class cheesesteaks list. Meathead's Drippin Steak was my number one cheesesteak on my 1st Best of the list. If you follow NJ food, you may have heard about a guy named Pete Genovese. Pete just made a top 30 best NJ cheesesteaks. All four of these cheesesteaks were listed. Three of them are in the top 10. If he had used my ‘eating the cheesesteaks at Double Nickel Brewing’ bonus points scale, all four would have been top 10. What more can I say? Four delicious cheesesteaks. One has to move on to The Sweet 16. Lillo’s Tomato Pies moves on to The Sweet 16. - sidebar - Their Tomato Pies are pretty tasty.
Scalessa’s My Way Old School Italian Kitchen, Tenderbones Rib Shack, Ioanonni’s Specialty Sandwiches, and Zach’s Grill. The little talked about but amazing Delaware Cheesesteak scene. This group may be best known for things other than cheesesteaks. Donnie Scalessa is best known for his meatballs and butter cake. Ioanonni’s has a great roast beef sandwich. Customers love when Chef Bones sings to them. Zach, he’s the new kid on the block. He can cook and is working his tail off, so he’ll be well-known for something soon. Scalessa’s was a close but clear winner in their 1st round match with Zach’s. Tenderbones overwhelmed Ioannoni’s in the 1st round. The judge’s got traditional in the 2nd round, and Scalessa’s won a split decision to move into the Sweet 16.
Videos for all the early-round matches are on the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure YouTube channel.
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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.