We learned a few things this week after our stop at Gentile Brothers (pronounced “gen-tilley”.)
First, we were there on National Cheesesteak Day (are we living right, or what?), and secondly, apparently I’ve never had a real Philly Cheesesteak. At least not one that comes even close to the way they really make them in Philadelphia.
Just walking into the place, tucked away around the side of the South Trail Plaza (east side of the Trail, across the street on the north side of Robb & Stuckey), I can only imagine that this is what a sandwich shop would look like in the City of Brotherly Love. From the sports memorabilia lined walls, to the lively banter of the friendly owners and staff (“hey, one of youse answer the phone!”) to the boxes of Amoroso bread rolls stacked in the hall, I just knew we were in for a special treat.
The menu is as straightforward as one would expect, Philly Steak, Chicken sandwiches and Hoagies, plus some killer Specialty Sandwiches, there are also a variety of uniquely seasoned French fries as well as onion rings for side dishes, and bottled water or canned soda.
What I learned to understand, is that Philly Cheesesteaks are not just a “sandwich” to the Gentile Brothers. It’s about their passion for perfection that make their Philly cheesesteak such an iconic sandwich, one that sparks debate about what is . . . and is not a classic Philly cheesesteak.
We engaged Nick Gentile in conversation and, like any red-blooded guy raised in Philly, much of that conversation revolved around sports – “Hey, Scotty Bowman is a regular here, and remember when the Flyers knocked the tar (or words to that effect) out of the Russian Red Army hockey team in ’76?” Once we got that discussion out of the way, it was all about the elusive Philly sandwich that has taken on mythical status.
Nick gave us a cool history lesson on the cheesesteak’s humble beginnings as well. It seems Pat Olivieri, founder of what was to become Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia, was selling hot dogs on the street for a living. One day, around 1929, Pat took some beef to work, cooked it on the hot dog grill, and put it on an Italian roll, and dressed it with onions. He sold it to one of his regulars, a cab driver for 5 cents, whereupon the cabbie came back the next day for another one, telling Pat he should “youse should forget ’bout those hot dogs, and just sell these.” And so the Philly Steak Sandwich was born. The addition of cheese came along a few years later, and voila, it’s been a sensation ever since!
Okay so that makes it three things I learned.
Of course, I was all in for the Classic Cheesesteak. But first, you have to know how to order it in Philly-speak. Unlike Starbuck’s, where I practically need to get the Rosetta Stone program to learn that language, ordering a Philly Steak sandwich is 1-2-3. Pick your meat, specify Whiz (yes, that’s Cheese Whiz), American, or Provolone; then specify “wit” or “witout” onions. Repeat after me – one “Cheesesteak Whiz Wit.” Simple, and simply awesome.
The bread is the foundation of this all-American beauty, with it’s aforementioned Amoroso rolls shipped straight from Philly. Nick prefers to slice the ribeye, as opposed to those “pretenders” that chop the meat, “leaving too much flavor on the grill.” (That’d be lesson four, if anyone’s counting.) Add sautéed onions and a generous ladle of Cheese Whiz, and
youse you can feel the real. Heaven forbid anyone tell Nick Gentile that a real Philly cheesesteak has sautéed green peppers on it!
Learn to eat, and eat to learn, I say.
Our other selection was the Broad St. Bully, or simply “the Bully.” Aptly named after the Philadelphia Flyers, this beauty of a sandwich serves up a proper mouthful of chicken cutlet, sharp Provolone, broccoli rabe, and hot peppers. Seriously, this was “drop your gloves and man-up” tasty.
We added a side of “why didn’t I think of that” Crab Fries seasoned with Old Bay seasoning. Believe me when I tell you I would have been happy to eat half, and take the other half home, but we were so thoroughly enjoying the food and visiting with Nick, that we somehow managed to polish off everything before I even noticed.
Maybe the next time I’ll do that with The Clemenza/ Cheesesteak with its Double Meat, Double Cheese! (“Gimme a Clemenza Whiz Wit!” See? Easy!)
As the menu states, “We’re going to make you a sandwich you can’t refuse!”
Thanks Gentile Bros.!