The Awfully Tasty Heart Attack Special

In the handful of times I’ve been to Philadelphia, I always made sure to woof down either a Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteak, that wonderful Philly concoction using meat that you can only assume to be steak fried up nice & well, along with some grilled onions, perhaps some mushrooms, packed onto an Amoroso’s sandwich roll and then slathered in (I’m not kidding) Cheez Wiz, and OH DEAR GOD IS IT GOOD.

Pat’s versus Geno’s (they are located across the street from one another) remains Philly’s version of Coke versus Pepsi, and I lean towards Geno’s, and NOT only because when I asked for some steak sauce at Pat’s the guy behind the counter yelled at me. Evidently this is sacrilege, and I suppose if someone asked for ketchup for a brisket I’d carefully braised all day in a tomato & wine gravy, I’d be in the mood to yell as well. But I still liked Geno’s sandwich better for some reason, though in all honesty the difference between ’em is less than that of Coke & Pepsi.

Perhaps my adopted town of Burbank will have a similar rivalry, with two Philly cheesesteak places opened up basically around the corner from one another. The first is South Street, with other branches near UCLA and in Dodger Stadium, and the other is a franchise of Philly’s Best, which are all over the so-Cal area.

Bottom line – both of these places make a good sandwich and use the Amoroso bread flown in from Philly. They both shred their steak (Pat’s style – remember, Geno’s gives you bigger pieces of steak), but only Philly’s Best offers you the surprisingly yummers Cheez Wiz as an option. South Street melts real cheese over their sandwich, which as you probably know is also pretty damn good. South Street also had steak sauce available for philistines like me, whereas Philly’s Best only had ketchup and hot sauce to go with the pickle assortment. These are all minor differences, though… so it might take me a few more tries at each place to see which one I might wind up preferring, if any.

That is, if my arteries can take it.

Now if only someone can come up with a way to imitate the unique steak sandwich recipe of the now-gone and very much missed Phil’s Diner of North Hollywood. The Korean family who had run Phil’s for years decided to retire early when the street where they sat was closed up for what seemed forever as the North Hollywood Red Line Subway Station was being built, and new owners never made a go of the place. The diner was hauled away to make room for later construction, as detailed in this other blog. It’s too bad they didn’t stick it out, really, since once those subway stations were up and running, the businesses surrounding them often had a sudden influx of customers, most notably the wonderful Langer’s Deli, located a block from the Westlake station in a very bad neighborhood. The subway probably saved Langer’s, at least at its longtime location, and this means that the BEST PASTRAMI SANDWICH ON PLANET EARTH still has a home. If only Phil’s steak sandwich did!

I’ve tried duplicating the recipe… remember, the owners were Korean, and they fusion-ed up the sandwich roughly as follows: he marinated the thinly cut steak in some sort of teriyaki concoction for what must have been DAYS, and would fish strips out of this elixir upon your ordering and throw ’em on the hot griddle. Alongside, he’d griddle up a mix of Asian veggies, what looked like bok choy greens and bean sprouts. He threw some mild white American cheese onto the steak towards the end, flipped it onto the veggies and then spatula-ed the entire pile onto a 6 inch crunchy crust subway roll, GODHEAD I TELLS YA! and now I’m flashing back to how I went there EVERY DAY FOR A WEEK for lunch right before he closed because I knew I’d probably never get another one of those sandwiches. I’ve come close in my attempts, but without getting the marinade recipe exactly, there’s no way to duplicate the subtleties in the meat. Perhaps with the passing years it won’t be noticeable anymore, especially since my own tries have produced some pretty decent sandwiches. Maybe I need the beat-to-hell 1920s diner car around me, with the always-broken Spanish Eyes pinball machine in the corner.

Mmmmmm….. sandwich.


12 thoughts on “The Awfully Tasty Heart Attack Special

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  1. I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Stanley

  2. MMMM, the first time I ever had a philly cheese was at Penn State. I can still taste the cheez whiz….

  3. I remember how, in college, I stumbled upon the discovery that Cheez Whiz (and even those who-knows-WHAT’S-in-’em aerosol cheeses) goes well with…. caviar!

    No kidding…. try a splotch of that artificial Cheez-crud-whatever on a cracker topped with a little of the salty black roe…. it’s damn good, and enough to make any connoisseur of Beluga drop dead on the spot if they’re watching.

  4. The last time I was in Philly in 2004, I had a cheese steak. It almost immediately turned to cement in my stomach, and about 4 hours later led to some of the most violent power vomiting I’ve ever experienced.


  5. Now THAT’S just gross.

    After knowing you all these years, I’d have thought a lifetime of beer swilling would have strengthened your stomach’s constitution. Evidently, you need to be drinking even more. Time to double-down on the Sam Adams. What’s the worst that could happen?

    Don’t answer that.

  6. If there ever was a recipe that should have been saved, the Phil’s Diner Steak Sandwich was it. I was working in NH for Disney in the early 80’s and it was the ultimate lunch stop. I had forgotten that pinball machine, although there were times when I had played it. Even when it worked it didn’t work. The points were seemingly awarded by divine intervention or random circumstance. But that sandwich was amazing. It’s all I ever ordered there, and years later I would order one for pickup if I were going anywhere near the place. Even though it didn’t do well on a long drive, as the roll would end up pretty soggy. It would be great if you could post how you attempted to recreate it.

  7. Well, I summed up my attempts at duplicating the recipe while it was still fresh to my taste buds’ memory years ago. The only thing I really experimented with was the marinade – the bok choy greens/bean sprout mix, thrown onto the griddle with a little salt/pepper & the white american cheese at the end, really didn’t change. I used a crusty bread roll that was soft on the inside, tried it regular and toasted (preferred toasted).

    So, as far as the marinade: I tried bottled teriyaki sauce, and then tried a mix of soy sauce/sherry wine (1 part soy to 3/4 part sherry wine) with a little rice vinegar, minced ginger, minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes to taste.

    Each time, I got a very nice sandwich… but at this point, I don’t know if it would be EXACTLY what Phil’s Diner had concocted all those years ago. But I’m sure if you experimented with the home-made marinade to your own tastes, you’d come up with something worth repeating.

  8. My husband and I were just talking about this the other day. We were watching the show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and are sure that Phil’s and the teriyaki steak sub would be featured on an episode if it were still around. Thanks for your suggestions on the marinade. We tried using a Korean barbeque marinade recipe that we found online. It was good, but like you say, not exactly “it”. Maybe the slices of meat we used weren’t exactly right, either. I remember his being super thin. You’re right about the white American cheese for sure. I don’t know if it makes a difference or not, but my memories of the sauteed veggies (and yes, I opened up a sub and picked through it to try to figure this part out) were fresh spinach, mushrooms and bean sprouts.

  9. Hmm… maybe the comparative bitterness of spinach versus the bok choy leaves & the thinly sliced mushrooms are what were missing from my experiments…

    I sound like Vincent Price!

    And yes, they cut their steak very thin – I’m pretty sure they were using flank steak, cut very thin and across the grain.

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