They call it the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia sometimes gets a bad rap for its, shall we say, passionate residents. A basically blue collar town with a rich history and a high society sector, Philly has been playing second fiddle to New York and DC in so many areas for as many years as I can recall. Recently however, Philadelphia has been experiencing something of a resurgence. While never falling out of favor with its own, Philly is finally getting some of the national and international recognition that it deserves. For one thing, Philly was voted into the top 15 most livable cities in America by Forbes Magazine. We got the Best Urban Trail award last year for the Schuylkill River Trail, and we even garnered the unusual honor of having the best public restrooms in America for the bathrooms at Longwood Gardens. And that was just a few of the multitude of awards we received from various magazines and other sources. Even the New York Times, the flagship paper of one of our biggest rival cities, voted Philadelphia #3 on their annual list of the best places in the country to visit. Maybe, just maybe, Philly can finally shed the negative images that it has become known for.
One thing Philly has been known for that has not been a negative (unless maybe you’re a personal trainer), is the food. Most notably, the Philly cheesesteak. Often simulated but never correctly duplicated, it’s basically the pinnacle of the true Philly food experience. Hoagies, soft pretzels, water ice, Tastykakes (although many of these are now available nationwide) are all things that we grew up loving, back when the rest of the world was left out. The battle over who has the best cheesesteak in town has raged on for generations. It’s come between brothers, broken up friendships, and probably even called off a wedding or two. So, if you have your own strong opinions on who makes the best cheesesteak in Philly, or the best hoagie, or the best pizza for that matter, you need to vote your favorites in our Best Of Philly 2015 competition. Do it now. Do it here. In the meantime, we asked a few folks who are not from Philly, if they’d ever been here and what they liked or disliked about the food.
You’ve been to Philly multiple times, right? You’ve done the search for the best cheesesteak thing? What was your favorite?
“Oh hell yeah! Not even a question, Pat’s! Jim’s is a close second though.”
Is there any place where you live down south that tries to simulate them? How do they do?
“We have a place called Ankar’s. They come closest.”
What’s the biggest food faux pas for the people who try to simulate the Philly food experience?
“Well, the biggest thing is thinking that the cheesesteaks are supposed to have green peppers in them. It’s a crime I know.”
Is there any other Philly food that draws you when you come?
“Used to be Tastykakes, but we have those now. Soft pretzels too.”
You’re not from Philadelphia, but you come here often. Where do you live and what brings you to Philly?
“I’m from DC originally, but live in Aston PA right now (for work), so I am close enough to be in Philly quite often.”
Were you familiar with Philly foods before you got to the area?
“Oh yeah. DC is close enough that we either have it, have someone who tries to make it, or we just know about it.”
“So, what is your favorite Philly food? And where do you get it?”
“Gotta be the cheesesteak. I mean, it’s the most iconic of them all, right? I think when you arrive here they don’t let you in unless you promise to go immediately to find the cheesesteak of your liking. I like Jim’s on South street. I did the corner war thing and was kind of disappointed. I mean, they were both so good, but for all of the hype I was pretty shocked to get one just as good or better, elsewhere.”
What’s your favorite food to eat when you visit Philadelphia?
“I like soft pretzels. They’re so good. They’re not like the kind you get in a box and heat up in the microwave. They’re so soft and we really don’t have anything like that where I am (in Davis, CA).”
Did you try the cheesesteaks when you were here?
“I don’t eat red meat, but my friend took me out to get a chicken cheesesteak that was so good! I’ve been told that’s not the same, but it tasted great to me!”
Okay, where are you from and how many times have you been to Philly?
“I live in Denver. I’m from Philly originally but moved away when I was a kid. I’m here probably 1 or 2 times a year.”
When you come back to visit what’s your must have Philly food?
“Well my real must have Philly food is my grandma’s sausage and peppers. But I always get a cheesesteak when I get in and I get pizza at Tacconelli’s. The pizza sucks out there. It’s not the same.”
Where do you get your cheesesteak?
“Usually Steve’s Prince of Steaks. They’re the best. It’s really good and right near where I’m at. But, sometimes while I’m here I wind up down at Pat’s at like 2 a.m after being out with my cousins all night catching up.”
After asking about 10 more people, all of whom reside outside of the Philly area and all of whom have been here multiple times and enjoyed a cheesesteak (knowing about the ongoing war), we wound up with a 30% share of the votes for Pat’s. Jim’s and Steve’s each garnered 20%, Gino’s, Tony Luke’s and Dalessandro’s each got 10%.
Honorable mention of Philly food favorites went to the hoagie, the soft pretzel, water ice, and Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews. We even learned a little Philly food fact ourselves when someone told us that ‘Peeps’, those marshmallow delights that we jam into our kid’s baskets at Easter time are considered a “Philly food” in other parts of the world. We knew that the Peep originated and is still produced in Bethlehem, not far from Philly, but we had no idea that they had such a regional connotation. Oh well, you live, you learn, you get schooled on fluffy marshmallow candies.
Any way you look at it, if you’re coming to Philly, you’ll need to come hungry. Be sure you grab one of Philly’s finest while you’re here. And if you check back on Saturday, our own Best of Philly 2015 will be out and you can see where our readers advise you to go.