A couple weeks ago a few friends and I spent a glorious day in Philadelphia. We sampled two cheesesteak rivals and an impressive selection of craft beer.
Brotherly Indulgence: Geno's v. Pat's
As you approach the intersection of S 9th Street and E Passyunk Avenue in Philadelphia the muted old Italian store fronts full of charcuterie, cheese, and pasta give way to the bright fluorescent lights of Geno's Steaks. A less experienced visitor to the city of brotherly love might stop here hypnotized by the sheer brilliance of this Vegas-esque oasis. Geno's sure has bravado but stopping here to experience the best of this city's famous sandwich would be a mistake. A big mistake.
Shun the fanfare and head across the street to the much more subdued, Pat's King of Steaks. What Pat's lacks in fluorescent flare it more than makes up in taste. I highly recommend ordering a whiz-wit, thinly cut steak cooked over a griddle topped with grilled onions (wit) and you guessed it, Cheez-Whiz (whiz). Pick up a couple hot cherry peppers for an extra kick and find a seat at one of the select red picnic tables under framed photographs of other famous folk smart enough to bypass Geno's. For the Cheez Whiz adverse you can order your cheesesteak with provolone but seriously, don't. You will regret it. But not as much as you'll regret ordering another whiz-wit at Geno's just to double check that hmm, yup, uh huh, Pat's. Definitely Pat's.
Brotherly Libations:For the beer lovers out there start your day by winding through an unassuming neighborhood until you find yourself at the Memphis Taproom. Order a round of Pliny the Elder; arguably the best American brewed imperial IPA. Philly is the only east coast city that currently distributes this gem and it definitely lives up to the hype. When you're finished with your first Pliny, have another along with a round of burgers and wings.
Head into the city to the Farmer's Cabinet. If it appears closed try opening the front door, it worked for us. Knowledgeable bartenders in suspenders and black ties serve their vast selection of specialty beers. Their outfits match the transporting 1920's atmosphere, tapestry draped walls, mason jar candles hang from the ceiling, and on Saturday nights a gypsy jazz band sets up in corner of the bar. Huddle up around one of the barrel tables and snack on mason jars of barley while quizzing the precisely mustachioed waiter on the difference between sherbert and sherbet. Be sure to try The Contrarain punch, served in a tiny white porcelain cup reminiscent of Sunday church picnics. For stout lovers don't miss Mikkeller's Black Hole Barrel Aged Edition Tequila Imperial Stout. If you're craving a hoppier beer and like a bitter finish to your IPA go with the Firestone Walker Double Jack, if you prefer a smoother finish try a glass of Nøgne Ø Two Captains. And if your a fledgling lambic connoisseur, ask for the bottle list and try Cantillion Gueuze, be warned it's very strong vinegar head is not for the faint of heart.
It should be about snack time so order up the pickle platter with green beans, cardamom carrots, cucumbers, and peppers served with a side of bourbon soaked apricots and other assorted dried fruit. Chat up the cheese guy long enough and he will inevitably lend you a taste. Repay his kindness and order one or more of their awesome selection. The Coeur du Berry goat cheese wrapped in herbes de Provence is delightful and ordering any of the cheeses is worth it for the house made rye bread, the best I have ever tasted.
Delighted and buzzed stumble back into the 21st century and down the street to Hawthornes. This unassuming cafe boasts an incredible selection of bottled beer. The staff is friendly and willing to recommend their favorites, which is helpful because choosing is so damn hard. After you have finally settled on a beer take a seat and commence trying everyone else's beer. Repeat. It's just about snack time again so give the chicken wings a go, they are literally an entire wing. The homemade pierogies are also good and the filling changes every few days. Our waitress recommended the Fettunta, a grilled baguette served with cream cheese, artichokes, roasted red pepper, mozzarella and chopped tomato. I guess it's worth a try but I could have done without the cream cheese.