Growing up in Philadelphia, the cheesesteak is as local a food staple as are the soft pretzel, tastykakes and hoagies (back before we counted calories). I would accompany my mom first to the butcher shop to buy the sliced rib-eye meat and then to the local deli to pick up our Italian rolls (it’s all about the bread) and american cheese (we weren’t fancy enough for provolone). With a little oil on the frying pan, the paper thin slices of meat would quickly brown and you chopped the meat up and put the cheese on top to melt. When it was ready, you put the roll on top of the cheese/meat pile and with the spatula flipped the sandwich over ready to eat (I would add ketchup). It’s messy, it’s tasty and you need many napkins – a bit of a metaphor for Philly itself.
When we didn’t make our cheesesteaks at home, we ate them at the local diner or ordered them from the pizza shop for delivery. Growing up in Northeast Philly, I had my favorite cheesesteak places. Once i started driving/working in the city, I was exposed to many other neighborhoods cheesesteaks, vendor carts and restaurants who put their own spin on the city’s famous sandwich. I would have the “classic” cheesesteak on South Street at Jim’s Steaks. Cheez Whiz sat on the grill in a large metal can melting and it was spread on both sides of the roll before the meat was added. It was oozing goodness and quickly became my favorite in the whole Pat’s vs. Geno’s debate.
Over the years, one of my favorite memories of the cheesesteak was when i returned from my international vacations. My parents would pick me up at the airport and, at that time, I would exchange my leftover currency and use those funds to pay for dinner at the local diner (my dad loved when i paid, suddenly eating more than ever because it was my bill). My go to meal upon return (years before the calorie counting, diets and my soda intervention) was mozzarella sticks, a cheesesteak with fries and a Pepsi. I still drive an hour to take friends to the diner for the cheesesteak of my youth, the one I had after high school stage crew/plays, the one at 1 am after the dance club closed, the one that was central to so many fun times with friends and family over the years.
What has been interesting to see how the cheesesteak has evolved into the cheesesteak springroll appetizer with spicy ketchup at high end restaurants in the city. The springroll is a nice bite sized portion of my favorite sandwich, blending different cheeses with meat into a thin crispy flaky shell served with spicy ketchup. Cheese Whiz is nowhere to be found here.
Davio’s (one of my favorite restaurants) was the first restaurant that I remember introducing this tasty appetizer. They trademarked their springrolls and now produce them for sale at a store near you (search for your store) to cook at home. The at home version are 100 calories per springroll (you can’t eat just one, I dare you!) Their restaurant presentation (much more than 100 calories I’m sure) includes onion strings as well as spicy mayo. It is the go to appetizer treat when I go for lunch or dinner – a special tasty treat.
The Four Seasons, Philadelphia also offers cheesesteak springrolls on their lounge menu. They serve them with spicy ketchup and banana peppers on the side. I love the fact that i can enjoy a great glass of wine at the fancy hotel eating essentially Philly junk food elevated into the springroll done Four Seasons style.
Both restaurants offer a fantastic wine list and I, like the cheesesteak, have evolved to pair a nice red wine with my cheesesteak springrolls (being posh). Many Philly restaurants are offering the cheesesteak springroll on their appetizer menu now and it’s a great way to introduce you to our hometown favorite in a bite sized, fancier version.
So whether you try the full size Philly cheesesteak or the posh mini version, the Cheesesteak Springroll, you are sure to enjoy and make your own food memories when visiting Philadelphia.