Chapter 79
Cheesesteaks Part 2
The Tales of Texas

1a - The Mysterious Ski Rack
1b - Wheres the Other Half of That Moose
1c - The Waiter Who Didnt Yall
1d - Scorpions, Scorpio
2a - Diet Soda
2b - Riding into the Sunrise
3 - Modest Magazines
4 - Down to Houston
5a - What Does That Sign Say
5b - Just Follow Your Nose
5c - They Call It the Sunbelt
5d - The State Tree
6 - The New House
7a - Billboards
7b - Billboards Again
8 - Stereo Upgrade
9 - Wineries
10 - Unintentionally Left Blank
11 - CBW in TX
12 - Ice House Radio
13 - Goats and Cotton
14 - Dig We Must
15 - Dan Moody
16 - Dry Heat
17 - Dead Animals
18a - Bookstore Culture
18b - On the Open Road
19 - Weather
20 - Sightings in Bertram and Buchanan
21 - Too Many Birds
22 - Road Hazards
23 - Sightings to and from Houston
24 - The Great Wall of Train
25 - In the Heat of the Day
26 - Bite Me
27 - Bid on This Skeleton
28 - Willie
29 - Rural Countryside
30 - SUV SUX!
31 - Kinky on the Texas Monthly Hour
32 - Strange Yellow Sky
33 - Football is a Serious Enterprise in Texas
34 - Remember the Alamoo!
35 - What's That on the Radio
36 - Trip to Houston through the small towns
37 - Shoe Story, an Austin Anecdote
38 - Unintended Fireworks
39 - Flash Flood Warning
40 - Sin City
41 - Live music in Austin, but in theaters not in clubs
42 - Fear of Overpass
43 - The Big Sneezy
44 - New Texas
45 - Front Ended by the French Fry Mobile
46 - Dirt Farm
47a - Heard at the Texas Book Festival 2008
48a - Texas Book Festival 2009
49 - Central Time Sucks
50 - Temple Texas
51 - Christmas in Austin
52 - Pennants in the Wind
53 - The Road Less Traveled
54 - Texas-size Thunderstorm
55 - Cool Van
56 - Your New House Is That-A-Way
57 - C.S.I. Austin
58 - New MTV Game Show
59 - Equine Technology
60 - Look at That Prairie
61 - Get Your Water Here
62 - Corporate Anniversaries
63 - College Sprawl
64 - Hire These Guys
65 - Preparing for Winter
66 - Careful What You Overhear
67 - Bonnie Raitt
68 - Perfume
69 - Questionable Skills
70 - All-American Day
71 - Read Me
72 - Weird Fog
73 - Overpackaged Food
74 - What Town Was That
75 - Texas Book Festival 2010
76 - Bulletproof Roof
77 - The Oldest Photo
78 - Cheesesteaks Part 1
79 - Cheesesteaks Part 2

In Pursuit of the Ultimate Cheesesteak, Chapter 2

20091226

If one craves Philly cheesesteaks and is nowhere near Philly, what does one do? One makes do with the local cuisine. In Austin, there are a number of cheesesteak-ish facilities available, of varying quality. Herewith, reviews of the local establishments.

Texadelphia: This is a local Texas chain. It started in Austin, and about half of their stores are still in Austin. It's a sandwich shop with cheesesteaks and burgers and some other sandwiches. The "cheesesteak," yes, has thinly sliced steak, and cheese, on a bun; but a Philly cheesesteak, it is not. I mean, one of the flavor add-ons is jalapeno pepper slices. This accurately represents the "Texa" part of the name. The "delphia" part, however, is poorly represented. My original review of it, when I first moved to Austin, was, "Sort of a steak sandwich, but the city of Philadelphia should sue for misuse of the name."

Jersey Mike's: Another chain, this one much larger. I don't know how many there are, but certainly more than a hundred, including some in New Jersey. There are four of them in little ole Austin. There is almost certainly one in your neighborhood. It is a sandwich shop with a large variety of subs, with one real standout. Jersey Mike's, I'm delighted to report, makes a really good, very Philadelphia-like cheesesteak sandwich. Good roll, good steak, good cheese, texture and flavor both perfectly competent. Any place in downtown Philly should be proud to serve steak this good. Go visit your local one and see. The sandwiches are so good that I forgive them for being a chain.

Hog Island Deli: A local Austin establishment. There are two of them downtown, and another one will be opening soon, we hope, in the northwest area. One is a student hangout a few blocks south of the campus. Regrettably not open on Sundays. A sandwich shop with a variety of hoagies. Ah, but not an ordinary shop and not ordinary hoagies. The cheesesteaks here are outstanding, as good as anything that I have ever had, in Philadelphia or elsewhere. The meat has the right range of texture, with some edges being slightly crisp. The cheese is wonderfully gooey. Peppers. Onions if you wish. A little salt and pepper. Yum, yum. Heavenly.

We were in New Jersey recently, dangerously close to Philadelphia, and someone issued a challenge that there was a local place that had "THE best cheesesteaks." Well, we tried it. First, we have to find it. Never fear, we have Google to give us the address, and our GPS, Nancy, to be our guide. Or so we think. The hard part is that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania seems to have reported some bad data to the Census Bureau, or the Department of Transportation, or wherever the GPS manufacturers get their data. So Nancy guides us to the right street, but like the wrong end of it, 800 or 900 numbers away from where we should be. However, with a little bit of wandering around in the rain, we locate it.

A little aside: when we come out, it is raining so hard that even the geese are hiding under the roof in front of the storefronts. Aside aside: Even in winter, this area is filled with Canada geese. Yes, they fly south for the winter, but apparently some of them are too lazy, I guess, to fly all the way, and they stop in New Jersey. Some people foolishly encourage them. Around here there are a lot of places with ponds. Ponds tend to freeze in the winter. Geese need water. If the pond is frozen over, then the geese can't really live there. So what do they do? Well, one company with a huge and beautiful campus and a large pond sends the groundskeeper out every morning to break the ice on the pond with a backhoe so that the geese can drink. Sounds very kind and charitable to the poor birds, doesn't it. Now consider what the birds do the rest of the day when they are done drinking their fill at the pond. What they do is crap on your lawn. That huge and beautiful campus, acres of perfect grass, is a couple inches deep in goose guano. You can't walk anywhere on it, at least not safely without some impervious Kevlar boots. Ordinary shoes would dissolve in seconds. So maybe encouraging the geese to stay through the winter is a really, really bad idea. Worse than feeding deer, which allows them to increase their population in an area and then eat every garden and cultivated plant in sight. This bad idea is played out all over the Northeast. Whoops, what happened to Texas? End of aside.

Sam's Cold Beer Takeout, Morrisville, Pennsylvania: A bar with many beer coolers and a couple tables. Cheap Formica tables and chairs. And bright fluorescent lighting. Sort of a 7-11 that carries beer and little else. There are twenty feet of glass-front beer coolers and two little bitty soda coolers. And a couple shelves of chips. Three of the four tables are occupied by, I assume, regulars. But these guys make the "Cheers" crowd look like Nobel laureates. You know the regulars from the Dortmunder series by Donald Westlake? Like that. But oddly, one loud snatch of conversation that I can't ignore is about using on-demand channels on cable. Not a topic I would have expected.

Up by the cash register are a couple (badly) hand lettered signs describing the menu. The cheesesteaks can come with peppers, onions, mushrooms, even gravy. Five bucks, which is really cheap. And fries for an extra buck. The sandwiches are good, competent cheesesteaks, but "THE best" they ain't. A bit greasy, a bit gummy. The meat in larger pieces, not shredded as it ought to be. The rolls are pretty good, though, as advertised. Overall, too far to go, geographically and culturally, for a merely good sandwich. In my humble opinion, both Jersey Mike's and Hog Island are way better.

The recommender informs us that the real cook was not there that day, apparently off for the weekend or the holidays. If the Fat Lady isn't there, the product is not likely to be at its best. Well, maybe. We'll try it again someday.

Meantime, I'll go back to Texas to get a really good Philly cheesesteak.

Another aside: We also tried the Pennington Pizza & Italian Restaurant cheesesteak. This is a homey pizza and sandwich shop with a large local following. Sorry to report that the cheesesteak is not very Philly-like. The roll was not bad, the meat was okay if a little gummy, but there was very little cheese. The worst feature was the peppers, which were not roasted but probably only cooked with the meat and retained much of their green pepper bitterness. Ick. On the plus side, they sell pizza by the slice, and the slices look great.