Philly’s finest cheesesteaks

Frederic Hewitt, Sports Editor

Standing as the fifth largest city in the United States, Philadelphia is known for a multitude of distinctive reasons.  “The City of Brotherly Love” has a significant place in our country’s history for the creation of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the Constitution in 1787, and home of the Liberty Bell.

One treasure of Philadelphia that’s often overlooked is the Philly cheesesteak.

Earlier this month, myself and other Clarion staff members were honored to represent our school and our paper at the National College Media Convention, hosted in Philadelphia.  I put the responsibility solely on my shoulders to step outside of my Wisconsin lifestyle and embrace the culture of Philadelphia.  By doing that, I made the decision to eat at least one Philly cheesesteak everyday for the entire length of our trip.

Before I could fully enjoy a genuine Philly cheesesteak, I felt obligated to do some research on the famous sandwich and its history.  That being said, I discovered that brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri developed the cheesesteak in the early 1930s.  The two opened a hot dog stand in 1930 on the corners of 9th Street, Wharton Ave. and Passyunk Ave.  The brothers grew tired of selling hotdogs and wanted to distinguish their business among the ranks of their competitors, so they developed a new sandwich, which included chopped steak and grilled onions.

After the sandwich was made, Pat was testing the final product next to the stand.  A local cab driver took notice and was compelled to stop and inquire on what it was he was eating.  The cab driver bought one for 10 cents, and immediately after consumption, told them to quit selling hotdogs and focus on making cheesesteaks.

The sandwiches became a hit, and by 1940 the brothers decided it was time to expand their business by renting a location, around where their hotdog stand had been, for a sit-down restaurant called Pat’s King of Steaks.  Both worked vigorously over the next few decades at the restaurant, which was open 24-hours.  They each averaged approximately 18 hours a day working in the restaurant every day.

Almost 85 years later, Philly cheesesteaks are still a highly acclaimed aspect of the city it’s named after.  Pat’s King of Steaks is still in business today and is owned by Harry’s grandson, Frank Olivieri, Jr.

Naturally I felt it completely necessary to take a journey to the restaurant that started it all.  After consuming a cheesesteak from Pat’s King of Steaks, I found myself completely satisfied.

I wanted to branch out, though, and try a cheesesteak from another vender.  To my surprise, the next place offered the best cheesesteak of the entire trip and it was in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

The market was a fascinating place, located in the basement of the terminal, which was previously used as a train shed.  There are over 100 different merchants to purchase fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, ice cream, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and specialty and ethnic foods.  It was there that I found the place which I thought to be the best cheesesteak in the city.  It was called Carmen’s Famous Hoagies & Cheesesteaks.  They made the cheesesteak directly in front of you and it was set up like an old fashioned diner in the middle of the market.

Some other great places to experience an authentic Philly cheesesteak are McGillin’s Olde Ale House and the Down Home Diner.  McGillin’s is Philadelphia’s oldest running Irish pub, and continued to be operative during the prohibition era.  The Down Home Diner is another merchant inside the terminal market, but offers a lot of authentic Philly-style dishes.

Ultimately, if you’re going to optimize a trip to see some of the most significant historical locations of our nation’s history, consuming one of Philly’s historical cheesesteaks should most definitely be integrated into the itinerary.