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Monday, August 16, 2010

Bite Club BR - Philly Cheese Steaks

Bite Club BR is a new series from Bite and Booze that presents a foodie fight, or "Battle Royale", between two "Baton Rouge" restaurants, bars, chefs, or other culinary creators.  In Bite Club BR's first ever showdown, we'll take a look at a notable sandwich from the Northeast that has recently made a splash in Baton Rouge: Philly Cheese Steaks!



Cheese Steaks are the culinary icon of Philadelphia.  The sandwich represents to them what the poboy means to New Orleans.  There is culture, creativity, passion, and pizazz all sandwiched between a roll of bread.  And like the poboy, there are many different variations on the Philly Cheese Steak.  One of the first things one needs to know is how to order the gastronomic glory known as the Cheese Steak.  Cheese Steaks in Philly have their own lingo, and if you don't know about it, you are likely to hold up a line while you are confused and trying to order.  

In Philadelphia, the first step is to pick which rival Cheese Steak you want to partake in.  In South Philly, Pat's and Geno's go head to head for sandwich supremacy.  In Baton Rouge, Bite Club BR puts South of Philly and Philly Me Up to the challenge. Step two is to decide what you want before you get to the front of the line.  There are menu boards to drool over while you wait, but once you're to the ordering counter, you best be ready.  The Cheese Steak has four basic items: meat, cheese, toppings, and roll.  You don't need to decide on the roll.  Much like French bread is to the poboy in Louisiana, the Amoroso long roll is pretty much the only option for an authentic Cheese Steak.

As for the meat, you'll usually have an option to go with chicken.  That's like choosing to have relations with the ugly step-sister when the hottie sister is willing and ready.  Stop thinking about yard birds and go with the beef.  Cheese for many is the most difficult decision.  One version of the classic Philly Cheese Steak uses Kraft's Cheez Whiz or just "Whiz" to Philly Phanatics.  First marketed in 1952, Cheez Whiz is a staple at Pat's King of Steaks in Philly where it was made famous as a sandwich topping.   However, since the Cheese Steak has been around since the 1930s, twenty years before Cheez Whiz, the folks at Geno's consider American or Provolone to be more authentic.  Either way, you're going with over 50 years of history and tradition, so the cheese choice really just comes down to personal preference.

Finally, the time comes to choose your toppings.  Onions are the most common, so if you want them, you just have to say "with" or "wit" if you want to sound like a local in Philly. If you don't want them, make sure you say "without" or you may be biting into a roll full of them anyway. Other acceptable toppings include mushrooms, sauce, peppers, and more depending on whose Cheese Steak you're eating.

For my taste test, I decided to get the exact same sandwich at both locations.  For consistency sake, I ordered a "whiz wit", their normal beef Cheese Steak with Cheez Whiz and onions.  This was the most basic steak that I'd feel comfortable ordering because I wasn't about to get one "wit out".  My first stop came at Philly Me Up on Jefferson Highway.  Philly Me Up sits a fairly new, small strip mall.

A 10" Classic Whiz Wit at Philly Me Up
Philly Me Up's Cheese Steaks can be ordered in a 6" small or 10" regular size.  Naturally, I opted for the regular at a price of $7.50.  When I asked for Cheez Whiz the guy behind the counter didn't know if they had any.  He went to the back to check, and it turned out they did, but the first impression of  a Cheese Steak place not knowing if they had Cheez Whiz was far from impressive.  The restaurant had a nice, relaxed feel to it.  I took a seat at a booth and watched a little afternoon Sports Center while waiting on my meal.  It didn't arrive in record time, but the wait also wasn't a burden on the lunch.  At first glance the Cheese Steak looked impressive.  It had been cut in half and looked loaded with beef and onions... and then I realized: where was my cheese?  As can be seen on the picture above, a little Cheez Whiz made it on to the left half of the sandwich, but the right half noticeably lacked a substantial amount the deliciously processed cheese sauce.  The good news is that the beef at Philly Me Up tasted very nice.  Each bite featured well seasoned and tender thinly sliced steak, and there were plenty of onions to add flavor.  I gladly ate all 10 inches of Cheese Steak and, along with a side of fries, I left fairly satisfied with the meal.

A 12" Philly Steak Whiz Wit at South of Philly
South of Philly on Sherwood Forrest serves up a wide variety of Cheese Steak combinations, though my duty consisted of ordering the exact same thing that I had at Philly Me Up.  This time around I had to choose between a 7" or 12" sandwich, so naturally I opted for the foot-long.  The 12" Philly Steak Whiz Wit ran me a tab of $9.25.  South of Philly apparently gets plenty of Cheez Whiz orders as they laid it on thick!  While they weren't skimpy on the cheese, they may have forgotten how to season beef.  The steak itself lacked the customary salt and spices, and provided a slightly bland sandwich.  There were plenty of chopped onions mixed in and the amount of cheese added to the flavor, but there was still something missing in the beef.  I ate the entire Cheese Steak, thinking the whole time that it tasted good, but could easily be better.  Perhaps they sell so many variations of Cheese Steaks that come with sauces or other toppings that they don't need to season the beef much.

In any case, the I'd gladly eat either sandwich again, but that's not what Bite Club BR is all about!  This Baton Rouge Cheese Steak Battle Royale must have a winner, and that's no easy decision.  If I could design my own sandwich from the two I had just eaten, I'd take the beef from Philly Me Up and put it with the bread, onions and cheese from South of Philly.  Unfortunately, that's not an option.  I'm going to have to choose...

And the winner is...........


As I said, this was a difficult call. Both sandwiches were by all means satisfactory.  Ultimately it came down to the lack of knowledge about whether or not Philly Me Up had Cheez Whiz and the lack of Whiz that they put on the sandwich after they found some.  Had that Cheese Steak gotten the same cheesy love that South of Philly delivered, this would have been a different story.  For what it's worth, I also like the atmosphere and character of South of Philly more, which goes a long way when trying to recreate an authentic Philly Cheese Steak.  Next time I might try some different varieties of toppings and cheese, but right now, on this edition of Bite Club BR, South of Philly reigns supreme!

If you have thoughts about either of these two places or another place to get Philly Cheese Steaks in Baton Rouge, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post!

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South Of Philly on UrbanspoonPhilly Me Up on Urbanspoon