One of the joys of growing up in my ancestral homeland of New Jersey is that you get to experience the native regional delicacies of two great American cities, New York and Philadelphia. Philly’s contribution to the nation’s buffet is of course the cheesesteak, and, as any local can tell you, there are really only two places to go to get a real Philly cheesesteak: Pat’s King of Steaks or Geno’s.
These two bitter rivals, located across the street from each other at the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Ave. in South Philadelphia, define the Philly cheesesteak. Pat’s, founded in 1930, claims it invented cheesesteaks, while Geno’s, founded in 1966, claims it makes a better version. Both institutions take their cheesesteaks very seriously. There’s even an established protocol for ordering your cheesesteak, which, if you violate, marks you as a newbie, tourist, or perhaps a hick from Harrisburg or some other one-horse central PA town (similar to Seinfeld’s “Soup Nazi”). As Pat tells us, a proper order sounds something like “American, with” or “whiz, without,” indicating both the type of cheese, and whether or not you want fried onions on your hoagie roll (under no circumstances should you order swiss, like our friend John F. Kerry to the left here — the traditional options are “whiz,” provolone, or American).
Not to be outdone, Pat’s rival Geno’s has raised the ordering stakes. Owner Joey Vento recently mandated that all cheesesteak orders must be done in English, much to the dismay of some snooty BBC journalists. A sign reading “this is America, please order in English” now graces the Geno’s cheesesteak stand. The South Philadelphia neighborhood that hosts the two cheesesteak giants, which was Italian-American for a long time until Mexican and Korean immigrants started moving in recently, seems to have embraced Vento and his message. The city’s Commission on Human Relations, however, is not amused, and legal action is pending against Vento for bias (details here). Vento has done some conservative things in the past — when I was there in summer of 2005 he had renamed his French fries “Freedom Fries” — but this has got him a bit more attention. However, Vento is taking it in stride and doesn’t seems to be making a big deal out of it. “The only thing the customer has to tell us is what kind of cheese he wants – Cheese Whiz, American or Provolone. It’s as simple as that,” he said.
(via The Weekly Standard)