Eat

Beyond the Cheesesteak: Philly’s New Street Eats

If you’re looking for some cheap, homegrown street food that’ll put your local yuppie “slow-fast-food” joint to shame, I highly suggest beginning in the city of brotherly love.

By Drew Bateman

Beyond the Cheesesteak from Citizen Brooklyn on Vimeo.

Forget the cheesesteaks, this article will not be about them. Ask any local who’s been eating on these streets since the eighties and they’ll tell you; cheesesteaks now are nothing like they used to be. The meat is thicker, less savory and mass-produced. The tourist industry killed the cheesesteak. This article will be about a broader topic, something that Philly always does right: The sandwich. Philly is a workingman’s city, and what else does the bricklayer or foreman bring in his brown bag but a sandwich? Philly has turned sandwich-making into a certain art form, with numerous barebones roadside stands dishing out roast pork’s, roast beefs, hoagies (that’s a submarine or hero) and other Philly specialties, such as they have for decades.

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

If you’re looking for some cheap, homegrown street food that’ll put your local yuppie “slow-fast-food” joint to shame, I highly suggest beginning in the city of brotherly love. Here are a couple of places to get you started.

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

The first on the list is no secret. PYT opened in 2009 in the Northern Liberties area of Philadelphia. Founded by a party promoter on the principle of fun, PYT would often have theme parties and DJs in its early years. Their shtick is burgers, and when I say burgers, I mean anything you could dream of with a patty in the middle. When I first arrived at PYT and met with Kevin, my PYT tour guide, he was trying out a new burger straight from the lab – a sweet potato burger sandwiched between two cornmeal sriracha buns. This was a hopeful contender for PYT’s burger of the week special. Past burgers have included “Fauxrean” burgers – with fried kimchi and kalbi sauce, fried bacon mac and cheeseburgers and chicken katsu burgers. As well as their array of delicious, artery clogging burgers, PYT also has a nice collection of fancy “adult” milkshakes, such as their Bananas John Foster and Drunk Brown Cow, the current weekly special being a blend of thin mint Girl Scout cookies, chocolate vodka and Crème de Menthe. PYT’s burgers are as fearless and oblivious to health concerns as the city itself.

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

If you’re looking for more of an old Philly experience, check out Texas Wieners in South Philly. No, the place has nothing to do with Texas. Texas is just a style of grilling wieners, wherein they’re cut in half and cooked from the inside. Texas wieners is a restaurant that’s been in business since 1923. It was founded by a Greek immigrant, Stephanos Mandrohalos, who made his living by setting up shop and selling two things – wieners and fishcakes. What’s a fishcake, you may ask. A fishcake is a blend of different fish and spices that’s breaded, fried, and then grilled once again before going in a hot dog bun. What really made Mandrohalos’s shop explode though was his special sauce that he brought with him from Greece. The sauce goes on all their specialties, like “The works,” a Texas style wiener with onions, mustard and Greek sauce, and the Fish Cake combo, the same thing with fishcake added on. Most of the people that eat here are regulars who’ve been frequenting this spot since they were shorter than the counter. Texas wieners has been going strong for over ninety years, a phenomenon that the owner, John Viggiano credits to the secret Greek sauce, which they sell by the container.

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

Our third and final spot, George’s Sandwiches, is located in the Italian Market, an open-air market, a cultural gem nestled a little south of Center City. Though the stretch of 9th street going from South Street down to Federal is called the Italian Market, it is equally composed of Vietnamese, Mexican and Italian restaurants and marketplaces, with the southernmost block housing two of Philly’s most commercialized tourist attractions, Pat’s and Geno’s steaks. George’s though, has remained much the same since it opened in the 1930’s serving up juicy, homemade sandwiches in a no-frills, no nonsense environment. Originally, Georges was a roadside stand set up next to a butcher shop by a Greek immigrant, George. George would buy the meat from the butcher and cook it right there, selling sandwiches like hotcakes in the once bustling market. Eventually the butchery downsized, and George moved shop right next to the butcher. To this day they reside in the same space, running the whole place with just one oven and one grill. Though they’re most famous for their roast pork, George’s also serves a slow-cooked, tomato stewed tripe sandwich, and savory beef and veal sandwich with hot peppers. Aside from what they’ve got on the menu, Georges also has a secret menu, a slew of combos named in honor of the frequent customers that would order them, such as the Henry Dog, or the Tina. If you’re feeling up to an adventure, order the Charlie Sheen. (No, Charlie Sheen is not a regular, sorry.)

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

People often describe Philly as being a big city with a small town feel. A visit to any of these joints and you’ll see what I mean. So next time you’re here, curb your urge to go the first place with a big flashy cheesesteak sign you see, and you’ll be glad that you did.

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

Photo © Drew Bateman

One Response to “Beyond the Cheesesteak: Philly’s New Street Eats”

  1. Adam says:

    Geeze this article was terrible. It was written like a college paper, the pictures are awful and I noticed that there were no actual pictures of the food mentioned, just some badly edited shit ( over saturated with some vignettes really?!?!) And that one video at PYT looked like it was shot by someone who was given a camera but had no idea how to use it, let alone make a video.. so they just decided shoot it blurry and close up and edit it with iMovie.

    Citizen Brooklyn really needs to hire better “journalists”.

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