Okay, gang, back to my adolescence. This one is where these pieces all began. It appeared April 5, 2009, at www.thebroadstreetreview.com, under the title “Steak Sandwiches, B.C.,” and, after reflection, I will concede that was an improvement over what I had submitted it as.
Let’s get one thing straight. The whole idea is a corruption. The Philly cheese steak is about as traditional as an aluminum Xmas tree.
When I had my first, fifty years ago, it was “Y’wanna getta steak?” Period. It meant meat, an Italian roll, onions – grease. Salt, pepper, hot sauce – and for the brave — chopped cherry peppers optional. The cheese – out of a can, by the way – came later.
They weren’t everywhere either. You needed a car to get them. And you just didn’t pick one up for lunch or after school or dinner. They were best ritualized. Usually, it went like this. You had nothing to do, so you went to Dewey’s – 48th & Spruce – and hung out – 15 cent cherry coke – “Poinciana” on the juke box – or, nice weather, you stood outside, and, maybe, Marty Yudoff came by in his ‘50 Studebaker and knew a party in Oxford Circle, so you and Max Garden and Gino DiPieta and Sam Blank chipped in $2.00 for gas and, only after the party, when no one had scored, no one had gotten lucky – which was out of the question really, anyway – no one even getting a date or a phone number – you went for steaks.
The place we went was Jim’s, 62nd & Noble. Jim’s was a classic steak place. Narrow as a cigar box. The grill along the north wall spattering with the meat and onions. The salt, pepper, hot sauce, napkins on the wall behind you. (A sign offering $75 if you could prove the what you ate came off any three-letter animal not spelled “cow.”) You stood in line. You paid your fifty cents. And no place to sit. Very important, no place to sit.
The great places all had one name – Jim’s, Lou’s (for meat ball subs), Nick’s (for roast beef), and Pat’s. (The exception was The White House, in Atlantic City, for hoagies. I knew guys drove the entire 120 miles for an Italian Meats Special.) Pat’s, on 9th, where Wharton crosses Passyunk, deserves a few words of its own.
Not only did Pat’s have no place to sit. You couldn’t even get inside. You stood on the sidewalk, under an overhang plastered with black-and-white photos of Pat with notable Philadelphians: Bobby Rydell; Gus Zernial; Pat with Gil Turner; with three of the Four Jays; and you ordered through a window. And ordering at Pat’s was really cool. You said, depending on your feelings about onions, “One with” or “One without.” And if you were really, really cool, you knew to say, “One with, inside out,” which meant “Scrape-the-bread-outta-the-roll.”
Cheese was not even in the conversation.