Pat’s vs Geno’s – The Philly Cheese steak Controversy

headtoheadI love a good controversy…AND I love a good sammich.  The thing with Philly Cheese steak goes way back to the old truism that you should ALWAYS eat the local specialty.  You will get the best of the best of everything.  So, while rolling through Philadelphia recently, my wife and I decided to fan the flames of controversy and do our own throw-down, head-to-head taste-test to uncover the BEST Philly Cheese steak.

There are Philly Cheese steak (PCS) joints all over Philadelphia – and all over the country for that matter.  But there are two that have been duking it out year after year – literally on opposite corners of the street in south Philadelphia.  Both CLAIM to be THE PCS.  Both have extremely loyal followings.  But is one really superior to the other?  Is there a discernable difference?  For the purpose of this taste-test, let’s just agree that this is totally unscientific – two people’s uneducated opinions based on the fact that we like good food. (Seriously, this is a white-hot controversial issue and no matter which way we go or what we say – there will be hate mail…lots and lots of hate mail).  But if you read this far, you care – so we press on.

PatsExteriorMy wife and I went to some lengths to even the playing field.  First of all, eating on the street corner in 90 degree weather can do a lot to sway your opinion.  And Pat’s and Geno’s have very different vibes in terms of décor (or lack thereof) and personality – can’t control that – so we got our sandwiches “to go”.  Each was “born” minutes apart – passing through the windows of Pat’s and Geno’s with exactly the same ingredients.  For the inexperienced, the Philly Cheese steak or PCS is not a complicated thing – and yet, if you haven’t had one from one or the other of these places…you really haven’t had one.  More on that in a moment.  There is only one proper combination of ingredients for a true PCS – grilled steak on a roll with Cheese Whiz and onions.  There is no mustard, there are no pickles, there is no lettuce, no hot sauce – nothin’.  Known as a “Whiz ‘wit” – that’s Philly slang and proper ordering etiquette for grilled steak on a roll with Cheese Whiz and onions – got it? Good, ‘cause you’re holdin’ up da line!  One can choose another type of cheese – say, provolone or Swiss, and I believe at least one of the places will add grilled mushrooms or peppers.  But why do you want to mess with perfection?  Whiz Wit – that’s all you gotta know.

PatsSammichSo, we get our sandwiches “to go” and we make them road ready for the ride back to DC – wrapped up in foil and inside an aluminum serving tray with a lid on it.  We went through the trouble of clearly marking which was which so as to not taint the results of the taste test – but after our analysis, I’m confident I could tell you which was which on sight – a subtle, yet important difference in the construction method that is a dead giveaway.  When we unwrapped the sandwiches, we noticed a couple of things immediately – Pat’s is a bigger sandwich – more STUFF in it.  Also, Pat’s slathers the top of the sandwich with cheese – Geno’s puts the cheese on first under the steak and the onions.  So, even after a couple of hours on the road, one is fairly neat and one is cheesy and gooey.  Believe it or not, the difference in the construction does seem to have an effect on the taste.  But we’re talking about Cheese Whiz here – it’s not even cheese – it’s a cheese “product” out of a can.  It’s not like it’s a fine-aged cheddar or a creamy brie – its Whiz wit a “Z”, baby.

Did I tell you this was going to be detailed? – because we picked these things apart for YOUR benefit.

Next up, the rolls.  Geno’s roll is a softer white bread kind of roll.  Pat’s is like crunchy, Italian-style bread.  Both are definitely fresh – and both good in their own way.  But again, THIS sammich is a sum of its parts.

Onions.  Grilled.  Onions are onions, right?  Nope.  Both are white onions and both are grilled with the steak.  Pat’s puts a fine chop on the onions, so they mix in more with the steak and the cheese – almost like the three elements become one yummy sammich goo.  Geno’s on the other hand features larger diced pieces, a little bit smaller than a postage stamp.  The larger size leaves you with a bit more oniony crunch in your sandwich.  (I’m making up all kinds of words here, but the PCS is a religious experience and I need a little latitude).

GenoExteriorFinally, steak.  You have to remember that every scrap of steak that comes out of either place is grilled on a flat-top grill that has had millions of steaks grilled on it.  Don’t discount that.  While I couldn’t say for sure, I think this is why you haven’t REALLY had a PCS unless it comes from one of these places.  Something about the juice and the kibbles and bits and char and mojo of a ba-jillion steaks affects the taste in a good way.  Next, Pat’s chops the steak up – so you get shards and pieces of steak.  It’s all steak – and I think it’s why the Pat’s sandwich looks bigger.  I doubt you get significantly more steak, but with it all chopped up, it makes for a “meatier” sandwich.  Geno’s, on the other hand, uses whole pieces of thinly sliced steak.  Also, in tasting the steak independent of the sandwich – Geno’s tastes like the meat is seasoned more than the Pat’s steak.  It might just be that whole pieces allow more surface area for the seasoning to hold on to.  My wife said that the Geno’s steak reminded her of Steak-um meat.  You want controversy – here it is.  In my opinion, the Geno’s steak is more tender.  Without a doubt, the Pat’s steak is chewier.  One theory – JUST A THEORY, a notion, whatever, easy there – Pat’s could be using a more inexpensive piece of meat, tougher meat, chopped up to make it more palatable and tender.  Less expensive meat = more on the sandwich = bigger sandwich.  And for a lot of people – that’s the key factor and Pat’s is a winner hands down.  (Man, I can just feel the rush of hatemail from the Pat’s loyalists coming my way for suggesting such a thing).

JoeyVentoFINAL ANALYSIS
These are both the finest sandwiches known to humankind and both these joints are institutions in their own right.  Neither is going out of business anytime soon and each rakes in a ton of cash.  And it IS cash, because neither accepts credit cards.  I’d go out of my way – in fact, I DO go out of my way to get them.  If you haven’t tried them – make some excuse to go to Philadelphia and go do your own taste test.  At the end of a long, hot day in south Philly, I think there’s room for both.  And I think on any given day, I could see myself saying “Today, I’m in the mood for Pat’s” or “I think I’ll have Geno’s today”.  Each sandwich has its own unique taste despite being essentially made of the same ingredients.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was worried that I’d be biased to go with Pat’s.  Pat’s is what I’ve had before.  Pat’s was my first PCS.  It’s consistently great.  Pat’s just FEELS like the “People’s cheese steak” – numero uno, the original.  Geno’s has a lot of flash and personality – lots of neon and a million pictures of Joey Vento, the owner, with every celebrity that ever ate a PCS lining the walls.  Always seemed to me that they were trying to make up for some inferiority.  If they thought they had to try so hard, they must know something is up – why am I gonna break my neck to cross a busy street for #2, right?  Well, it was worth the trip across the street.  GENO’S WINS.  The combination of the soft, fresh roll, the tender steak, the crunchy onions and the cheese on the bottom tying it all together worked for us.  Pat’s seemed tougher.  Everything chopped up and mixed together created kind of a gooey mixture – that, while still great – didn’t give you enough definition of flavors to set it apart.

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NEW Roller Coaster – The Bitch and Sue!

The Coney Island Cyclone!

The Coney Island Cyclone!

Hey Campers!  That’s how we likes our Cageboy blogs – infrequent and random!  The surprise approach – the Beast will never expect it!

As we’ve often opined in these “pages”, the Cageboys are family men!  Rugged, Daddy types who aren’t afraid of changing a diaper or wiping a snot-covered nose!  The last in a dying breed of married men who genuinely enjoy the challenges that married life and daddy-ocity throw at us!  This is how I found myself at a major theme park for 8+ hours this week in the tow of my children and their friends.  Hey, not to complain – I’m a fan and student of the theme park arts.  I marvel at the ruthless efficiency that “keeps the line moving” and the grounds spotless. 

(Those of you who wagered 6 sentences before the bitching begins may pick up your winnings at the window). 

What the hell is wrong with people?  Your average theme park patron doesn’t look any different than you or me – but there is some kind of fantastic mental-retardation that occurs in people the minute they walk through the gates of the Giant Super-Happy Flags Village.  Personally, I think that lawyers have litigated away the ability of people to just relax and enjoy themselves in theme parks – everyone is there looking for a payday – some minor injury that, while it’s not too painful to tolerate, could result in multi-million dollar lawsuits.  Thus is the case with roller coasters – any roller coaster.  You don’t believe me?  Spend 20 minutes at the exit of any roller coaster in the country and SEE if I’m lying. 

I spent many hours this week doing just that – waiting for my children.  I heard an inordinate amount of people – grown adults who would otherwise possess a modicum of common sense – come off roller coasters grabbing their necks and complaining how rough this was – or how this or that one “beat me up”.  Hey dumbass, it’s a roller coaster – not a Swedish massage – it’s DESIGNED to toss you around.  In fact, theme parks haul in ba-jillions of dollars and have dolts like you WAITING IN LINE for the same treatment. 

Now, here’s the deal.  In my day, I loved riding the coasters – I could go all day long and I loved them all!  Steel, wooden, loops, launches, inversions, rolls, hills – WHATEVER.  The bigger, badder and meaner the better.  Guess what?  I’m older now – I’m 40ish.  My body doesn’t respond to the general havoc a roller coaster inflicts as it once did.  I rode a couple with my kids this week – and they were great.  Am I paying for it now?  You bet!  But I’m not suing – I’m not complaining.  In fact, I’ll probably go back and do it again in small doses.  I’ve heard people come off talking about how this or that one “has really deteriorated and gotten rough from when I was a kid”.  No it hasn’t.  It’s the same as it ever was.  If anything, it’s probably gotten better over the years.  It’s you and your broke-dick body that’s deteriorated.  You can’t take it, Cindy – go ride the carousel and get yerself an ice cream, pussy!

Gosh, this blog has really gotten outta hand here.  I must admit though, I was pretty steamed when I heard all this.  I know how hard these theme park people work.  They bust their butts everyday to make sure you are your family have a fun and first-of-all, safe time at their park – and oh by the way, get to do it in a spotlessly clean and friendly environment.  Is it absolutely, 100% fool-proof?  No.  Strip away all the colors and fancy lights – at the end of the day – these roller coasters and tilt-a-whirls and all are big, grisly machines that have gears that grind, levers that pull, cables that wind and so forth.  YES, your favorite cartoon characters have come to life and are dancing around the magic fountains in the park – but this is NOT a fantasy-land – stick your hand in the middle of all that mechanical mess and it WILL get mangled – SO DON’T DO IT!  Put your ass where the painted-on outline of your ass is and keep it there until the ride has come to a complete stop!  What can we do besides draw you exact pictures of what you are to do and tell you a million times not to touch that?  Ya know, if you wanted to, when you’re flying in a plane, you COULD stand up and go open the door at 30,000 feet – but you shouldn’t BECAUSE YOU’LL GET HURT OR KILLED, STUPID!

In several sates, there is now something called the “Rider Responsibility Act” that’s an actual law that says you must comply with the posted riding instructions for each ride.  And to be sure, at the entrance of every last ride in any theme park, you’ll see a sign that warns you if you have back problems or high-blood pressure or whatever, you should not ride.  And then there is a quite lengthy and ridiculous run-down of exactly how to sit down and keep your belt-fastened.  Because apparently, if you don’t TELL someone that it’s a bad idea to wriggle out of the restraints and turn around backwards to wave at their friends, it’s on you when they get their head lopped off.  Back in the day, I believe my father referred to this as the dumbass, don’t act a fool, common-friggin-sense law of natural selection and it wasn’t on any books anywhere – but we understood what it meant anyway.

So what have we learned here today?
1. Don’t act a fool.
2.  Common-sense should NOT have to be made into a law.
3. Don’t act a fool.
4. Roller coasters are made to toss you around and if you feel the need to complain about how that makes you feel, you probably shouldn’t be riding them.
5. Don’t act a fool.
6. My dad was right all along.

With that…I HIGHLY suggest you get your share of roller coastering this summer.  Go out and scream your head off like a 12-year-old girl until your voice is hoarse before lawyers sue us into a box where we have to jump around in a circle!  But PLEASE – read the signs – don’t go in water over your head and for the love of God and all that is holy – don’t put your lips on that!

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Cosmic Rock and Roll Power By Way of Asbury Park

springsteenfenderYou see that picture over there?  Do you know what that is?  It’s Bruce Springsteen’s guitar.  It famously graced the cover of the Born To Run album when it came out in the summer of 1975.  But if you’ve ever seen a video of Bruce – or even caught his halftime show at the last Super Bowl – you’ve seen this guitar.  Bruce has had it his entire career.  For those of you guitar aficionados, lemme tell you what I know about this guitar.  Springsteen is a Fender loyalist and often switched between Fender Telecasters and Fender Esquire guitars.  He liked this guitar because it’s a Frankenstein hybrid of both.  It’s a 1953 Telecaster body with the fretboard and head of a 1950’s Esquire.  It’s been modified to include a small pre-amp that Bruce can switch on with a tiny toggle switch just below the pickups.  This allowed Bruce to travel to all corners of his concert stages and still have enough power to play through a 100 foot 3/4 inch standard plug.  REAL guitar nerds will tell you also that the Fender decals on the head were incorrectly applied when the guitar was manufactured – which causes some confusion.  Over the years, Bruce’s guitar techs have changed out the pick guard and the pickups – but the guitar is still pretty much the same as it ever was. 

How do I know all of this?  I recently saw this guitar hanging as part of a Springsteen Exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.  I read the extensive historical information that was next to it.  And this is where it gets a little weird.  I’m a pretty solidly grounded guy.  I’m not one to go in for a lot of mystical mumbo jumbo.  To be perfectly honest – I’m a pedestrian fan of Springsteen (although my appreciation is growing considerably the more I learn about Bruce and plan on seeing my first EVER live Springsteen show next month).  But apart from my relatively recent increased appreciation – I’m not some crazy Springsteen fan.  But friends, I’m here to tell you, my face was about 2 inches away from this guitar and if there ever was any kind of rock and roll power vibe – it’s emanating from this particular instrument.  At once you can’t believe it’s the real deal – I checked it out extensively and matched every scratch, every dent, every missing chunk of the body of the instrument with the many photos of Bruce carting it around stage.  It is absolutely the 100% real deal hanging there and it is DRIPPING with the goo of rock and roll godliness. 

Another thing I learned about Bruce from the exhibit is that he says what he means and means what he says.  The exhibit features pages and pages and notebooks worth of handwritten song lyrics.  I think Springsteen’s genius has been downplayed over the years.  The guy is prolific and he hardly EVER changes a word – or scratches out a line and gives it a second thought.  What flowed outta the pen is exactly what got recorded and became a hit record.  It’s uncanny.  It’s like everything appears to him and he merely transcribes what he sees.  By all means, get your self to Cleveland and go see the exhibit!  And if you didn’t get one issued to you as part of your white, suburban initiation kit with your white bread and mayonnaise – go pick up a copy of Born To Run and give that a listen while you’re at it!

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Dog Dreams

family-guy-brian-with-martiniI awoke this morning from a bizarre dream wherein one of my dogs walked himself down to the 7-11 and bought himself Slim Jim and a Slurpee.  He came home chompin’ away, quite satisfied with himself.  In this dream, I found him in the kitchen leaning on a counter enjoying his Slim Jim.  He was standing like a person – like Brian the dog from Family Guy.  Apart from the standing, eating Slim Jim, drinking Slurpee and apparently stealing my wallet, he still retained all his K9 attributes.  Weird.  Your dog wants Slim Jim.

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Squirt!

drsoda_2047_127225251Alright, settle down all you weird internet pervs – this is a post about my new favorite beverage – Squirt!

(Editor’s Note:  We might have to actually end up renaming this blog “Eating With The Cageboys” as a great many of our posts tend to be about food.  But, we likes our eats and drinks here in Cageboy Land and we want to share our vast and varied experience with the same.  Please, I implore you in the name of all that is delicious, heed our advice as we do actually drop some gustatory nuggets of knowledge in these pages.  You’ll thank us later!  And yes, if you dig through these pages, you will find another post extolling the virtues of Squirt – but having rediscovered the citrusy nectar – I felt compelled to speak of it again.)

Here’s the thing about Squirt – you can’t get it.  That is to say, it exists, but apparently only gets stocked in little pockets of the world that you probably don’t frequently visit.  I found it originally on a beach vacation.  In from the scorching sun and rooting through the local supermercado, I was one parched hombre.  And as I strolled down the beverage aisle, the bright yellow and red label jumped out at me hollering SQUIRT!!! at the top of it’s tiny, bubbly, refreshing soda-lungs.  Why yes, Squirt it shall be!  From the first sip – I was hooked.  A whole lot more citrusy than your Sprites or 7-Ups or Mysts of all stripes – Squirt also isn’t SO carbonated that you wince at a healthy swig.  And pour it in a glass and you’ll see – it’s kind of a cloudy, white liquid – not clear like the other brands I referenced.  It’s..well..citrusy.  Kind of lemon, lime, orange all mixed together.  And DAMN is it tasty!  So, by this time, I’m back at my house and I’m thinking – this stuff is WAY too good.  I proceeded to drink a whole 2-litre bottle in about an hours time.  And then that evil little corner of my brain starts in on me “Gee, fella, what was that?  Like 900 calories worth of soda?  Not too good, pal!”  But what if there was a diet variety, I wondered?  So the next day, I raced to the same store and ran down the aisle and sure enough – Diet Squirt – right there next to the hard stuff.  Oh happy day!  Much beverage enjoyment was to follow sans caloric guilt!  Cut to a couple of weeks later – I’m back home from my vacation – and I’m making out my shopping list and I think “Diet Squirt – got to gets me some more of that!”  No dice.  They don’t have it.  I went to a second store – nope.  Then a third – then a fourth.  Nothing.  Turns out, the Squirt is kind of a regional thing.  Perhaps more widely distributed in other parts of the country – but on the east coast – I’ve only ever found it in the Carolinas and Pennsylvania.  On a recent trip to PA – I happened upon it in a local grocer and hoarded the 2 cases they had on the shelf.  I’m fairly certain I could scare up crystal meth in a school zone easier than I could find Diet Squirt in a grocery store in Virginia.  Being the diligent shopper that I am – and armed with a BIT of soda knowledge, I’ve come to learn that Squirt is the delicious cousin of the 7-Up family of sodas.  That also includes your Dr. Pepper and your Snapple.  Next time I visit yonder groceria, I intend to make a special request of my grocer to direct their 7-Up delivery guy to scare up a couple of cases of Diet Squirt on their next delivery.  Meanwhile, my measily 2 cases stare at me from the pantry and beckon!

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Food Network vs. The World

altonbrownSince we’ve never actually identified ourselves on Ye Olde Cageboy blog, reading the various  posts are a bit like peeling the layers of an onion.  The sum of the parts will give you a pretty clear picture of what my associate and I are all about.  And thus, we come to Skippy’s confession of the day….I’m completely mental for Food Network.  I watch it all the time.  If there is nothing on, I’m watching it.  Sometimes I even forget to switch over to major sporting events or Presidential addresses because I’m watching Food Network.  I’ve been watching it for years.  And I must say, it’s done quite a bit of good and I’ve gained quite an impressive culinary education from the likes of Alton Brown (shown here), Bob Flay, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, that fuzzy little bitch Emiril and others.  Probably more by osmosis than actual study.  The white noise of my daily routine includes information about fatty acids, various spices and varieties of food stuff from all over the world.  In my case, it’s been effective.  At the time I got married, I couldn’t cook anything to save my life.  Neither could my wife.  We spent our college lives living at home and working jobs while we went to class during the day.  So, the first couple of years we were married, we ate whatever we could manage.  It wasn’t pretty.  And then we decided what the hell?  It’s just us – if we ruin something in the kitchen, we’re the only ones that will suffer and go hungry.  So, we honed and refined and came up with a half a dozen or so meals that we were pretty adept at throwing together.  To this day, we still occasionally make a dish we have dubbed “Dirty Chicken”.  It looks like a train wreck – but tastes fantastic  – and it’s relatively healthy.  Look for my Cageboy Cookbook coming soon!

Before we get off track – I want to get back to talking about the Food Network.  And I want to say right up front that the premise of my problem with the FN is not my own.  I can’t recall exactly where I read or heard the criticism – but it’s absolutely true – Food Network is making the same mistake MTV made back in the early 90’s.  In the beginning, Food Network was just a collection of one “How To Cook This and That” show after another.  Big time, expert chef’s breaking it down for we morons on the other end of the boob tube.  Sometime recently Bobby Flay (who I don’t especially care for ANYWAY) went from being the resident grill monkey to “Throwing Down” all the time.  Just friggin’ show me how to grill up a nice pork chop, you chowder head – you don’t have to run around getting in everybody’s face and challenging them to a duel.  What the hell is up with that?  Everything is a Challenge nowadays on FN.  Nobody just cooks.  Now Ace of Cakes I like.  They seem like cool dudes that I’d hang out with – but here we have FN going down the road of reality programming.  You are on VERY shaky ground here Food Network people!  One minute MTV had awesome music videos and the next it was all Real World and Jackass.  Don’t need that in my Food Network. 

Seriously, I’m gonna punch out the Cageboy Cookbook – get a show – and the average schlub making Shake-n-Bake will return to basic cable and we’ll kick it up a notch – BAM!!!!

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World Ending . . . News at 11 . . . . AKA, Mookie Ponders the Simple Joys

When the world turns south, the humor wanes . . . and then when it has gone so far south that it begins coming back around and going north again just so it can turn around and go south some more . . . well, at some point the humor returns, if only in a “Oh, my crap, can you BUHLIEVE?” sorta way. And that’s where I am this cold, rosey day. Hear that sound? It’s the sound of savings evaporating, 401Ks draining, and all your plans for the Good Life waving goodbye as it drives away in your 2010 Camaro to vacation in Hawaii with your dreams of retiring one day!

As I contemplate our worsening economy, all the cliches comes to mind:

– Tough times pass; tough people remain.

– Trying times are times for trying.

– This too shall pass.

– Leggo my Eggo.

– Remember, no matter where you go, there you are.

Ah, so much wisdom. But, after the initial fear that we will never experience the ‘Good Life’ again, what I find is that when things get difficult we focus on the basics of life, and on the simple joys (my wife calls them the “simple mercies”). For me, they are (or at least include) the following:

– Waking up to the smell of bacon frying.
– Stories told by seven year olds (” . . . and then, . . . . and then, . . . and then, . . . “)
– Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”
– Watching your boy enjoy little league football
– Baking a pie and having people actually enjoy eating it
– Chicken noodle soup
– Honest pay for honest work
– The prayers of a three-year old
– A good book and a whole uninterrupted Sunday afternoon to enjoy it
– A wife who likes playing video games and watching movies until 3am
– Chips and salsa
– Walking in the rain
– The look on your son’s face as he tells you about getting his first job
– Comforting your daughter in the middle of the night after a bad dream
– Playing catch
– Serving others
– Raking leaves
– Finishing a book
– Fixing a leaky faucet
– Chocolate milk

I guess my point is, when the world sidles up to The Brink, count your many blessings, and remember where the Good Life is really found.

And that’s all I have to say about that

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