Go ahead, Seattleites, duke it out over who has “the best Philly cheesesteak in town.” As a Philadelphian born and raised, I say that honor is in the dual-fisted grasp of the beholder, who (trust me) has a line of grease running down her arm.
So, yo, let’s get this straight: This ain’t that, ah-ight?
Instead, I offer a look at a quintet of Seattle-born steak shops whose names inevitably come up when folks talk about Philly’s signature sandwich. Which, done right, is a marriage of thinly shaved beef, chop-chop-chopped on a flat grill, bolstered with cheese and bound by a crusty Italian roll.
Speaking of cheese: Feel free to order “wit Whiz” — the same stuff you find smothering a heap of cheap nachos — but I find the practice appalling and prefer provolone. As for “chicken steaks” (most places have them): Be my guest, but count me out.
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7016 E. Marginal Way, Seattle, 206-762-1777; www.facebook.com/calozzisgeorgetown. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Fans of Al Calozzi’s Pioneer Square shop (closed in January) were cheered to hear the South Philly expat will be slinging steaks in Rainier Square by month’s end (look for it at 1306 Fourth Ave., Seattle). Meantime, I found Al at his friendly new Georgetown spinoff, where he’s keeping things small, with only four cheesesteak options, a handy walk-up window and a handful of stools at the counter. I opted for “The Steak Sandwich,” a classic plain jane (jazzed up with diced cherry peppers), and a pizza steak with mozzarella (lightly sauced with marinara). Verdict: Great rolls. Plenty of (too) finely chopped steak.
The Original Philly’s
3019 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., Seattle, 206-723-7445. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m. Sunday.
Loud, unkempt and slow. My order (three half-sandwiches) took more than 30 minutes to fulfill. I should have had a beer. But I later shared the goods with my South Jersey cohort who deemed the meld of meat, cheese and peppers a righteous reproduction of the real deal. Verdict: Call ahead for takeout and have the “Deluxe,” stuffed with hoagie-fied garnishes plus mushrooms, peppers and onions.
2332 E. Madison St., Seattle, 206-323-1000; www.phillysteakshop.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.
Old-timers remember this place from its heyday, when wisecracking Philly expat (and former owner) Renee LeFevre imported Amoroso’s rolls for her steaks, her Philly accent making me feel nostalgic. I still feel at home sitting at the long counter where I can plainly see that the clunky rolls are from Franz. And now that I’m done complaining, I’ll insist the young guy who cooked my steaks did so with great care and pride. Verdict: Bring the family, sit in the diner-esque dining room and order a honking “Fevre Special” outfitted with a plethora of peppers and a double dose of beef.
Philly Boys Cheesesteaks
3201 Fourth Ave. S., Seattle, 206-414-7707; www.facebook.com/PhillyBoysSteaks. Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Philly boy John Schofield is a mechanic turned meat man. As owner of A.C. Automotive, he’s the brains behind the Cheese Whiz-colored Philly Boys cheesesteak truck. Formerly parked in his lot, it’s now out and about, since John went brick-and-mortar — adding a spiffy little steak-shop where you can fill up while you tune up. Verdict: Stick with the cheesy classic and those fabulous hand-cut fries.
159 Yesler Way, Seattle, 206-264-8287; www.tatsdeli.com. Hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday (and three hours before kickoff on Sounders Sundays).
For years I’ve been carrying on about their Tat’strami sub (think: Pastrami cheesesteak, add coleslaw and Russian dressing), but the few Philly steaks on the long sandwich menu — plus a large selection of Tastykake — gives Tat’s the right to hang Philly team jerseys right next to Seattle’s. Verdict: Crusty rolls hold the perfect mix of meat, cheese and condimentia. Great atmo for eating in, plus the steaks are so good I downed one for breakfast.
Nancy Leson is the food writer for The Seattle Times.