With our weekend in Philadelphia winding down, we had one more item on our bucket list. And while Bassett’s Ice Cream, a tomato pie, or a fresh stromboli would need to wait for another trip, we were completely focused on the hoagie-centric theme of the city. Even though I’d cheated our itinerary by eating at Tony Luke’s, I wasn’t going to rest until I got a cheesesteak from Dalessandro’s.
Dalessandro’s is a near unanimous choice amongst the locals as the place to go for authentic cheesesteaks. From blogs, to reddit commentary, to various other weirdos in the dark corners of the Internet, they all agree that this is the place to go. The downside to this level of hype is the added probability of being let down – but I was prepared to enter with an open mind.
We went immediately after the Phillies game, and as we exited the busy downtown areas and moved towards the Roxborough outskirts, we were a little nervous. The area looked rough, and given the fact my car has both Ontario plates, and New England Patriots decor all over it, I suddenly felt like a walking target. Still, we ventured forward, into the incredibly busy line at Dalessandro’s.
The shop is small, no more than a few hundred feet. A dozen or so stools line the counters, and are never without a warm rear end. Outside, there are a handful of picnic tables, but it appeared that most people were grabbing their grub to go. Maybe they were also Patriots fans, and just as nervous as I was amongst a tough Philadelphia crowd.
When it came time to order, my wife got a chicken steak, while I played into the local speak and told her I’d take “provolone wit”, which is the allegedly cool local way to order your sandwiches in a hurry. They assume cheesesteak unless you say otherwise, so you’re telling them you want a specific cheese type, and “wit” meaning onions. Of course, this could be a made-up way to sort out the tourists, because she immediately asked if I wanted peppers, mayo, or ketchup. The idea of peppers was intriguing, but I wanted to keep it authentic. The other two have no business near steak, anywhere, anytime.
Behind the counter, a massive pile of chopped steak was being kept hot. What makes this place different is that they attack their steaks until they’re chopped into tiny bits, almost like an Iowa loose meat sandwich. The cheese is then melted directly into the steak, acting as a binder to keep the steak from spilling all over the place. Without this step, you’d probably be picking steak out of your car mats for years. Finally, the onions are grilled to a golden brown. The same steps applied for the chicken that my wife had ordered.
An older man in line asked if I’d come from the Phillies game, and I told him I had. He was really curious about the performance of young Jared Eickoff, asking me questions about his arm velocity, the movement on his pitches, etc. Listening to people around me, these kinds of conversations are standard with the blue collar Philly crowd – they take their sports seriously. It was a nice time killer while we waited for our sandwiches to finish up.
My wife talked to the kitchen staff, asking to take pictures, and then leaving a generous tip which got an enthusiastic “Thank You Emily!” in harmony from all the workers. Here it was, nearly 11pm on a Saturday night, finishing up what I’m sure was a busy day over a hot grill with impatient customers, and the entire staff polite and cheery. This goes a long way in helping remember an experience, and that was my biggest takeaway.
With sandwiches in tow, we headed back to our hotel in King of Prussia, and dove in.
The steak, in line with Philadelphia on the whole, was once again unseasoned. I absolutely hate this – but I’m fighting a tradition against world famous sandwich shops who aren’t hurting for business. The bread was crusty, with a dusting of cornmeal, which was an excellent addition. The sharp provolone did a much better job of adding flavor than it did at Tony Luke’s, for two reasons. One, just melting it through the steak ensured I was getting it evenly distributed in every bite, and two, they had a better quality provolone. Still, I looked to my wife and for the second time openly wished I’d taken Cheez Whiz; a condiment that would normally be given no consideration at any time on my food. The onions were large, glistening, and cooked just enough to add, but not overpower the sandwich. This was far more in line of what I’d hoped to get as a cheesesteak, and I’ve been craving another one ever since.
My wife pointed with her chicken steak, as she’d turned down cheese all together, and was left with dry, unseasoned chicken. The marinara helped, but it was pretty much just a tomato sauce without a lot of additional seasoning, leaving the peppers and mushrooms to try and carry the flavor parade. I think the addition of some American cheese would have turned this into a winner, but she’s not a big cheese fan on sandwiches and this wasn’t great.
The locals have it right with Dalessandro’s – it’s good, classic American fare. Nothing fancy is happening here, just a straight focus on doing what they do well. I may not have had a chance to tour the city, eating sandwiches like a boss, but I can’t help but feel like between DiNic’s and Dalessandro’s, I did pretty well for myself.