A cheesesteak, also known as a Philly cheesesteak or a steak and cheese, is a sandwich made from thinly sliced pieces of steak and melted cheese in a long roll. A popular regional fast food, it has its roots in the city of Philadelphia. The cheesesteak was developed in the early 20th century ‘by combining frizzled beef, onions, and cheese in a small loaf of bread,’ according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri are often credited with inventing the sandwich by serving chopped steak on hoagie rolls in the early 1930s. They began selling this variation of steak sandwiches at their hot dog stand near south Philadelphia’s Italian Market. They became so popular that Pat opened up his own restaurant which still operates today as Pat’s King of Steaks at the intersection of 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue in South Philly.

The sandwich was originally prepared without cheese. Olivieri claims provolone cheese was first added by Joe ‘Cocky Joe’ Lorenza, a manager at the Ridge Avenue location. Geno’s Steaks was founded in 1966 by Joey Vento directly across the street from rival Pat’s. The two restaurants have a highly publicized rivalry.

Cheesesteaks have become popular in restaurants, cafeterias and food carts throughout the city with many locations being independently owned family run businesses. Variations of cheesesteaks are now common in several fast food chains, and versions of the sandwich can also be found in locations ranging from bars to high-end restaurants.

The meat traditionally used is thinly sliced rib-eye or top round, although other cuts are also used. On a lightly oiled griddle at medium temperature, the steak slices are quickly browned and then scrambled into smaller pieces with a flat spatula. Common additions include sautéed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and ketchup. Provolone, American cheese, and Cheez Whiz are the most commonly used cheeses, and the most common bread is from Amoroso or Vilotti-Pisanelli.

Some places pre-melt the American cheese to achieve the creamy consistency, while others just put freshly cut slices over the meat, letting it melt slightly under the heat. Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan says ‘Provolone is for aficionados, extra-sharp for the most discriminating among them.’ Geno’s late owner, Joey Vento, said, ‘We always recommend the provolone. That’s the real cheese.’

Cheez Whiz, first marketed in 1952, was not yet available for the original 1930 version, but has spread in popularity. In a 1985 interview, Pat Olivieri’s nephew Frank Olivieri said that he uses ‘the processed cheese spread familiar to millions of parents who prize speed and ease in fixing the children’s lunch for the same reason, because it is fast.’ Cheez Whiz is ‘overwhelmingly the favorite’ at Pat’s, outselling runner-up American by a ratio of eight or ten to one, while Geno’s claims to go through eight to ten cases of Cheez Whiz a day.

During his presidential campaign in 2003, John Kerry was ridiculed for attempting to order the sandwich with Swiss cheese. A food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer explained: ‘In Philadelphia, that’s an alternative lifestyle.’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.