Depending on where you’re from, a cheesesteak will mean different things. If you’re from Philadelphia, the home of the cheesesteak, it simply means meat, cheese, onions and bread. If you’re from Pittsburgh, you might want tomatoes or lettuce or mayo on it. And there’s always the popularly incorrect idea of putting peppers on a cheesesteak.
Well, I consider myself a cheesesteak purist; if you start a conversation with me about one, I’m a total elitist. I practice the traditional Philadelphia-style decoration: nothing fancy, just provolone cheese and grilled onions with the meat and bread. Believe me, it’s the way to go. In a future post, I will introduce you to the pinnacle of cheesesteak lore, live from the other side of the state. But this time I stopped in at Peppi’s Subs on the North Side to sample Pittsburgh’s best shot.
Let me tell you, these guys aren’t from eastern PA, but they sure could be, because this is a sure-fire, genuine cheesesteak. It’s probably the closest thing you’ll get to Pat’s on this side of the state. To start, the bread is unbelievably fresh; if they don’t get it fresh every morning, I don’t know who does. It’s got the nice softness on the outside, so that when you squeeze a little bit you can almost feel everything inside.
And then there’s the filler. My philosophy on a cheesesteak’s insides is that it all combines into one entity, but I’ll break it down just for your sake. The meat is extremely tender and has that great grill taste on it which gives it a little character that meshes perfectly with the provolone. “Provy”, as it’s called in Philly, is the perfect sandwich cheese: it has enough flavor to be a unique cheese, but it’s mild enough that it doesn’t overpower the primary focus of the meat. It compliments the steak just right, and then you throw in the grilled onions.
Whether they’re chopped into small bits or grilled and strung out, grilled onions are quite possibly the single best addition to hot sandwiches known to man. They always give off the distinct onion flavor that can be harsh but is always delicious, and the consistency makes sure that the sandwich isn’t viewed as too flat or simplistic: there’s nothing wrong with a purely meat-and-cheese sandwich, but everybody likes a little something extra. Here, the onions give you just that: they aren’t front and center, but with every bite you take, you know there’s something extra in there with the meat and cheese.
I walked into Peppi’s skeptical as I do with every place not located in Philly that guarantees you a quality cheesesteak, but I emerged a convinced man. If you want a Pittsburgh cheesesteak, go ahead, add the extra toppings. But if you decide to go the Philly route, you’ll be rewarded with an authentic experience and a great rendition on a classic.