Since my son lives in southern New Jersey, just a stone’s throw from Philadelphia, I spend a good deal of time in and around the City of Brotherly Love. And because I do, I eat a lot of cheesesteaks – Philly’s best-known food product. I always indulge in at least one when I’m there, even if it’s just to grab a cheesesteak at Pat’s on the way to the airport.
I’ve tried all the “big boys” like Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, Tony Luke’s, et al, as well as lesser-known mom & pop operations and I have my favorites. Here in Utah, somewhat surprisingly, you can get a damned good cheesesteak. My go-to spots along the Wasatch Front are Moochie’s (of course), DP Cheesesteaks and The Philadelphian. If you’re even a smidgen interested in cheesesteaks, you’ve probably heard of those.
But there are two more cheesesteak joints that I also really love and, unless you’re a hardcore cheesesteak aficionado, you probably haven’t heard of them. They are Vito’s in Bountiful and the recently opened Fat Boy Phillies in Murray. These guys have the goods.
A really good cheesesteak is difficult to produce, even though the ingredients are pretty straightforward. The three essential components are meat, bread and cheese. However, it’s because a cheesesteak is so simple that so much depends on the quality of those components, along with supplementary extras like onions, peppers and so on.
Where most Utah cheesesteak eateries fall short is with regard to the cheesesteak roll – the bread. In Philly, most places turn to Amoroso Bakery for their legendary Amoros rolls – they’ve been baking them since 1914. They are de rigueur for making a legit cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia. Now, there are some places here that utilize Amoroso rolls – they are available shipped from Pennsylvania in bags – which isn’t the same thing as fresh. And, I’m convinced that the biggest reason that it’s hard to find a truly authentic Philly cheesesteak here is climate. Nope, not talking about climate change. I’m talking about humidity. Or rather, the lack thereof. It’s just too damned dry here for a good Amoroso-style roll to stand a chance. The rolls here are always a tad drier than back east. But, we make do.
A lot has been said and written about ordering a cheesesteak in Philly. Because some places – like Jim’s and Pat’s – tend to have long lines even at non-peak hours, the ordering process by necessity needs to be quick and efficient. No hemming and hawing allowed. It goes without saying that you are ordering a cheesesteak, so there’s no need to say, “I’ll have a cheesesteak…” You simply state the number you want – “one,” for example, the type of cheese you want, and whether you want onions on it or not: “wit’ or wit’out.”
So, ordering a cheesesteak with provolone and no onions – my favorite version – goes like this: “I’d like one provolone wit’out.” Simple, right? Now, in truth, I’ve found most of the cheesesteak places in Philly to be friendly and they won’t chastise you if you stumble, so don’t worry. Here in Utah, folks are very friendly and accomodating, so worry about cheesesteak ordering etiquette even less.
Fat Boy has the Beef
Although there was a line at lunchtime when I recently visit Fat Boy Phillies (5823 State St, Murray), one of the owners (either Anthony Duran or Oliver Duran, I’m not sure which) took the time to answer some Fat Boy questions for me. The main one was, “What cut of meat do you use?” Now, you might assume that since it’s chopped and/or minced, cheesesteak meat wouldn’t have to be expensive. Wrong. Because the meat in the sandwich matters so much, most places in Philadelphia use beef ribeye. It has the perfect fat content to create a juicy, flavorful steak sandwich. And that makes that fact that you can get a really great cheesesteak for around eight bucks truly remarkable.
At Fat Boy Phillies, I was told they use a blend of ribeye and filet. Whatever the blend ratio, they have it nicely dialed in. The meat is tender and juicy – more minced than chopped – and very generously proportioned. The rolls, wherever they’re from, are of very good quality, albeit a tad flakier than an Amoroso. A standard Fat Boy cheesesteak is about 8 inches long and runs $8.70, tax included. My cheesesteak was so overstuffed that I could only finish half of it in one sitting, and enjoyed the rest for lunch the next day. Cheesesteaks reheat pretty well in a microwave. So well, in fact, that I always bring one or two home from Philly with me to enjoy here. At any rate, the cheesesteaks at Fat Boy Phillies are so good that someday I’ll branch out and give their meatball sub a go. Bonus: The staff here is super friendly and helpful, not to mention fast. I ordered a cheesesteak to take out on my last visit and it was wrapped up, bagged and ready to go in about two minutes!
If I had to choose a favorite Utah cheesesteak store, I’d have to select Vito’s in Bountiful (100 S. Main). This is an unusual operation – and a truly independent one. Vito Leone cooks all of his food himself, as well as takes all of the orders. His eatery is only open from 11AM to about 2PM, although he frequently closes earlier, when he runs out of meat for his cheesesteaks. So, get there early. The other unusual aspect of service at Vito’s is that he only accepts personal checks and cash. As for the latter, it’s by way of an honor system where customers place their cash into a container and make change themselves. There is an ATM on the premises for those who thought they were going to use plastic.
There are 10 varieties of cheesesteak sandwich at Vito’s (including a popular one with blue cheese), and two sizes. It’s $8.50 for a 7 inch cheesesteak or $13.50 for the 14 inch version. I never remember to ask Vito what type of beef he uses in his cheesesteaks (because he’s always too busy to chat), but whatever it is, it’s near perfection. The steaks are juicy and tender and oh-so delicious. During his last visit to Utah, I took my son Hank to Vito’s. Now, as I mentioned, Hank lives near Philadelphia and has eaten his fair share of cheesesteaks in his day. So it’s a pretty strong recommendation of Vito’s that he declared: “This is just as good as any of the cheesesteaks back home!”
Got a favorite cheesesteak spot we should know about? Tell us about it!
Culinary quote of the week:
Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart. — Erma Bombeck
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.