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08/06 lots Inexpensive 9th & Passyunk Cheesesteaks with Whiz Hesitation while ordering

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Pat'sIn the eternal debates about the best Philly cheesesteak, Pat's is a perennial candidate. Pat Oliveri reputedly invented this sandwich, and so one cannot get any more authentic than this. And there is something about getting a Pat's steak, late at night, in the cold, Cheese Whiz dripping down your elbows, that as a package, is unmatched dining experience.

Pat's was dissed in a survey in the Inquirer Magazine, but I expect it was partly a process problem. The kids that rated the cheesesteaks seem to have tried each place just once, and it's true enough that the quality can vary widely from visit to visit. I've gotten tough, gristley miserly steaks, and I've gotten transcendently good ones. Despite this uncertainty, this is often the spot I'll take out-of-towners for the sake of a real authentic experience. I usually like like the steak, most often a pepper-whiz-with...

Pat's is open pretty much all the time, which can be a life-saver. I have a blurry recollection of being there at about 4am on Easter Sunday during college, but I don't think I can prove that.... Anyway, it is a safe bet that they will make you a steak at almost any time.

Pat's and its rival Geno's can be a bummer in cold weather, because there is no indoor seating. There are a few outdoor tables, but the classic pose is to hunch over one of the narrow shelves that line the walls.

I like the vibe here, and Pat's rolls are my faves of all the steak places, but the meat can be a bit tough or gristley at times. The steak is grilled in coherent slices, not chopped and shredded on the grill like at Jim's.

The default cheesesteak, a "cheesewith," is steak, Cheeze Whiz, and fried onions. If you've never had a cheesesteak, get that. I like to get green peppers (a "peppercheesewith") or you can opt for adding hot peppers yourself from the big jars outside.

There are often long lines here, but they move quickly. This relies, of course, on everyone ordering efficiently, and they even have a sign instructing you on how to order properly. Read it. They actually do get irritated if you stammer and mumble and try to describe what you want in some odd way. Just get a "cheesewith' or "cheesewithout"(no onions) or "provolonecheesewith" if you just can't bear the thought of Whiz. (But if you haven't had it, try the Whiz. In real life I'm a cheese snob, but in this context, I LOVE the Whiz.)

In some parallel reality it might make sense, but I still can't figure out why there are two separate lines, one for steaks and another for fries and drinks. I know they want to keep the lines moving, but it never works out right. The only way to do it is to send one person into the steak line and another person in the drinks line. You don't have the slightest chance of getting out at the same time, but it's better than going to the end of the drink line with steaks in hand, cheese coagulating and grease dripping, missing that crucial moment when a cheesesteak is at its transcendent peak.

The fries are pretty good, and I'll even sink so low as to go for the cheesefries, bathed in, yes, you guessed it, Whiz.

Jim's might be a slightly (and I do mean slightly) more refined place, both food and facilities. But it is hard to beat Pat's for pure atmosphere, and the true Philly experience.


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