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recently... lots Inexpensive 4th & South Streets Cheesesteaks with Whiz Hoagies

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If you are visiting Philly, or taking visitors out for the real Philly experience, this is the place. There are never-ending debates about who makes the best Philly cheesesteak, but Jim's is reliable, consistent, has a good location, you can actually sit down inside, and they make a great steak.

Pat's and Geno's can be hard to take, especially in inclement weather, and while I like both those spots, I have found from experience that visitors tend to find Jim's a bit more pleasing. I actually like the rolls at Pat's best, but Pat's meat can be a bit tough at times, it is sliced thicker, and left intact, not chopped on the grill like at Jim's. Geno's meat might be the best of all, but their whole cheesesteak package doesn't always blow me away, I'm not sure why.... There are ancient partisan battles about whether the slices of meat for a cheesesteak should be chopped (shredded might be a better term) on the grill or left whole. I gotta say I kind-of like it chopped...

If you are new to the concept, the cheesesteak is a wonderful Philadelphia creation, built from thinly-sliced steak, fried on a big flattop grill, and served on an italian roll with cheese and fried onions. It has been outlawed by the American Medical Association. There are a million variations on the cheesesteak, one can add peppers or mushrooms; tomato sauce makes it a pizzasteak. Lettuce, tomato, raw onions and mayo make it a cheesesteak hoagie. The options are endless.

Which brings us to another perennial debate: to Whiz or not to Whiz? Some old-school purists insist that provolone is the original authentic cheese. I was a provolone adherent at first, horrified by the prospect of eating that gooey, unnaturally-hued cheese-like product Cheeze-Whiz. But a quick, careless order at Pat's turned me around. Whiz is the only way to go. Trust me on this. I know it sounds gross, but there is something about the Whiz that really cuts through, while the provolone gets overwhelmed. Don't even suggest american cheese, unless you are fond of eating wallpaper paste.

To my taste, the best cheesesteak is a "Pepper-cheese with". To the uninitiated, that's green peppers, soft and warm in a bowl on the grill, Whiz, and fried onions. There seems to be some confusion about the terminology, so here it is:

  • The "with" means with onions. It doesn't mean "Whiz".
  • If you just say cheese, you mean Whiz. You must specify any other type.
  • The added elements come first in the name, hence "pepper-cheese", or "mushroom cheese".
  • If you stare at the grill cook, and slowly say "I'll have a cheesesteak with provelone, and mushrooms, and fried onions, he probably won't hit you with his spatula, but he'll like you better, and you can feel like a seasoned veteran if you say "mushroomprovelonewith". And say it with gusto. Just say "Cheesewith" and you will get you a steak with Whiz and fried onions: a classic.
  • Actually, lately, the grill guys have been insisting you specify cheese. back in the day, it was just assumed that you wanted Whiz. I think this has resulted from throngs of horrified tourists recoiling from the fluorescent orange oozing from their sandwiches... but that's just a theory. So say "whiz with" and you're good.
  • Pay attention! The grill cook will mumble something at you. This is your cue to order, and order fast. If he makes another noise that sounds like a question, he's asking about onions. Say yes. Always get your steak "with". The onions have been sitting on that grill, soaking up gallons of oil and steak drippings. They are delicious. If you are concerned about your health, or heartburn, you are in the wrong restaurant.

Jim's does NOT have chickensteaks. You know, chickensteaks are not bad, but they are something else altogether. Don't fool yourself that they are just as good. If you just do not eat beef at all, go down half a block to Ishkabibbles and get a chicken steak. Don't get Whiz on a chicken steak. That's disgusting. Or just go across 4th street to Alyans and get a falafel.

Jim's does NOT make french fries. No one knows why.

Jim's does make hoagies, but nobody eats them. They really aren't bad, I'm told by non-beefeating friends along for the ride, but hardly anybody gets them. Let this be a cue.

They have beer and soft drinks. There is an upstairs seating area that is often crowded, but tables empty fairly quickly, so you can usually find a spot. You can also sit along wall downstairs, but that can get pretty claustrophobic if it's at all busy. Jim's is inexpensive. You can load up a steak pretty well for under $5.


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