Saturday, August 22, 2009

Pat's King of Steaks Review

Pat's King of Steaks Cheese Steak Review

What can I say about Pat’s King of Steaks? My first review on this blog must start out with an analysis of the greatest cheesesteak place on the planet (well, the oldest at least). Despite whatever I have to say in this review, I must give the credit to the king because without Pat’s Steak history, this blog wouldn’t exist and neither would the food that America loves today called the “Philly Cheese Steak.”

To start our review I would like to present some overview information about Pat’s steak house. Pat’s Steaks is located at 1237 East Passyunk Avenue, South Philadelphia, PA 19147 (where 9th street crosses Wharton and Passyunk Avenue). They are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.

Next, let talk about the history of Pat’s Steaks. Pat’s was created by a man named Pat Olivieri in 1930. Pat Olivieri’s invention of the cheese steak actually began from a hot dog stand. Pat used to sell hotdogs in South Philadelphia near the Italian market. Olivieri tried something new one day and put together an Italian loaf of bread with some chopped steak that he put on the grill. He sold his first sandwiches to some taxi drivers from around the way. News spread quickly and this became a very profitable business for Pat.

Pat’s Steaks is truly the king in the sense that Pat Olivieri, the originator, started the whole cheese steak business with a little bit of serendipity. All those places that followed such as Jim’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks had just hopped on the cheese steak bandwagon. Those other steak houses were successful as well because there was plenty a room for more vendors to make money. After all, a whole new great food was created. Just think of how popular the modern pizza must have been when it was created in Napoli, Italy in the 1700s (see pizza history from Blog Pizza).

So back to my review of Pat’s King of Steaks. The Pat’s cheese steak place that we know of today has evolved to become a multimillion dollar business. The same Olivieri family still runs the joint today (and very efficiently too).

For those of you who don’t know me, I am the creator of the famous pizza blog called Blog Pizza. I have a strong Philadelphia background in the food industry. Thus, the reviews that I make here should be taken seriously because I know Philly foods very well. Actually, this cheese steak blog will be discussing various cheese steak places. I am actually going to take you to the hidden cheese steak places that only the locals know of. Do you know why the lines at Geno’s and Pat’s Steaks are two blocks long any given time of any given day? There are many reasons but I bet you a major one is that the tourists just don’t know where the real cheese steak shops are that locals eat at. I started this blog to let this secret out of the bag. Why? I am a true believer in sharing. It’s not that I have anything against the big players in the cheese steak business but there are hundreds of steak shops all over Philly. Why should two businesses take all of the tourists’ attention and their business? Besides, most regular cheese steak shops in Philly provide a better quality sandwich, bigger cheese steak, a cheaper price, and a lesser of an attitude to the tourists (well, that’s debatable – Philly is Philly).

Although I have been to Pat’s Steaks many times in the past, I have gone once more the other day just to ensure that this review is fresh. It is interesting to note that this review would have been said the same way if it was made 20 years ago. Some things never change.

To start this review out about Pat’s I would like to put myself in the perspective of the average tourist. If I was a tourist and I am deciding on which of the two steakhouses to go, Geno’s or Pat’s, I would recommend that you try Pat’s first (a tourist is usually looking to visit the most historical anyway). I like Pat’s over Geno’s but will have to admit that these days there is a blur between the actual differences.

The dynamics between Pat’s and Geno’s steaks is very interesting. The two cheese steak places operate a stone’s throw across from each other yet both businesses have lines that block traffic in the street (sometimes the lines actually get connected by accident). Geno’s has all of the fancy neon lights and glamour of a successful business and Pat’s has more of a modest 1970’s look (recently updated a little). For all of the money the two have made, I am still surprised they haven’t bought the whole neighborhood and put up cheese steak museums yet.

To discuss Pat’s Steak is hard not to include Geno’s into the conversation. Over the years, the two businesses have created this interesting force that has helped one another. The air of competition has startled a friendly debate over who has the best cheese steak. Every tourist that comes to Philly now feeds into the debate by trying to sample the both of them.

Although Pat’s Steaks is still simpler in appearance, don’t let their looks fool you. They make money and a lot of it. This is the reason that the quality of their food has declined drastically over the past 20 or something years.

So the other day I ordered a regular cheddar cheese steak with onions. I also picked up a soda and some cheese fries at the next widow (the first window is for steaks and the second window is for fries and everything else). The cheese steak was $8 and the fries and soda was about $6. I was full for about $15. The cheese steak was on a loaf of bread (about 8 inches long) sliced in 2. The steak was a smooth layer about an inch high off of the bottom of the sandwich. The cheese was cheddar but has an appearance of a watery version of cheddar (the kind that drips quickly). This cheddar is almost transparent (you can see through it). The onions cooked well with a slight burn and had just the right amount.

Overall, the cheese steak is very good but compared to my standards for Philly cheese steaks, it is very poor in many categories. This is why many locals usually don’t go to these two steakhouses. Don’t get me wrong, Geno’s and Pat’s Steaks have a taste that is very unique in Philly and is rarely replicated. However, for the value and quality, there are many more places that will put these places to shame in a competition (Stay tuned). Either way, if you have never tried a Pat’s Steak than it is still a requirement in order to really understand the cheese steak experience. This place is the Mecca of cheese steak places (even though I complain about the value I still end up going there at least once a year).

Now that I have completed my review, there is a couple observations that I made while at Pat’s Steaks that I wanted to discuss. First, while in the line at Pat’s I noticed that a couple of people were getting attitude from the cashier about how to order a steak. After their order was complete, I overheard them make a remark that offended me. The one guy asked the other “what the cashier’s problem was” and the man responded “this is South Philly, all Italians are like that?”

I must clarify this for all of those who are reading. South Philadelphia is the birthplace of Italians in Philadelphia. South Philly has the famous Italian markets which were the thriving area for many new Italian immigrants about 100 years ago. There are still many Italians in Philadelphia, specifically, South Philly. If you are going to make you impression of what Italians in South Philly are like based off of what you experience was standing in the line at Geno’s or Pat’s Steaks, I will highly advise you to reconsider. Not only will that impression be highly inaccurate but it is also the exact opposite of the truth.

First, you must distinguish between the South Philly cheese steak business and South Philadelphian Italian Americans. I have heard similar responses one too many times before and this is why I am taking the time to clarify. The Philly cheese steak business has become a show over the years (every celebrity known has visited Geno’s and Pat’s, including every politician). There is a huge marketing strategy that keeps bringing the customers back. The major cheese steak players treat you like s**t and create all of these weird rules of how to order. Then you buy into it and keep returning because tourists don’t know any better. People, it is a game! The workers are f***ing with your head. They know that you are a tourist so they keep asking you silly questions like “Wit or Witout.” Come on! You know what the irony is? An average local Philadelphian who does his or her once a year pilgrimage to Pat’s or Geno’s don’t ever say “Wit” or “Wit out”. I would guess that the average local don’t even know what that means. These are code words for tourists. The average local Philadelphian would walk up to the counter and say something like “give me a regular cheese steak WITH onions.” It would be understood and the line would keep moving. The bottom line is to not act like an idiot or a tourist when ordering. If you take your time ordering you will piss them off and you will get treated poorly (just like any other food place that you visit except it is a little more extreme here).

Regardless of who was right and who was wrong between the tourist and the cashier, the remark of the tourist was definitely not correct. How can you say that all Italian people in South Philadelphia (one of the largest parts of one of the biggest cities in America) are miserable people based off the reaction of a cashier at one cheese steak place (who is actually a nice guy but it was a very hot day and he may have been overworked). Most Italian people in Philadelphia and other South Philadelphians are very hospitable and kind. There is hardly a correlation between the cheese steak business and the norm in South Philly. Please don’t stereotype and try to resist characterizing a whole population. The truth is that people in Philly are built tough. They may have a stronger façade than the norm but a generally very nice people.

The next observation that I made was the reaction of one of the tourists who commented after the negative experience with the cashier. He was wondering why people keep come back to these steak shops even though the cashier is rude. My answer to that can be written in volumes but I will try to condense it for you. These cheese steak houses make so much money that the loss of one customer will not hurt them at all. They know that no matter what they will always be busy because of tourists who don’t know any better (do you see the value in this blog now – I will be giving everyone more options).

There are many things that the cheese steak places do that many locals don’t approve of either (like Geno’s Steaks sign about ordering in English) but they just don’t like to interfere with other people’s business. The cheese steak world has highly evolved to become one of the most original characteristics true to Philly. Please don’t take it personally if one of these places gives you attitude (and don’t think it is an Italian or a Philadelphian thing either). Just like all parts of life, if someone gives you attitude just give it right back (but make sure that you can back up your words in case the other party is prepared for your counter).

I hope that you have enjoyed this discussion of Pat’s King of Steaks cheese steak shop! Below I have included a list of Pat’s Steak menu and prices for your convenience. Keep in mind that this is the prices as of 2009. I am sure that a cheese steak will be worth double in about another 5 years.

Pat's King of Steak 2009 Menu (Price Includes Tax)

Extra Cheesesteak
Pizza Steak
Mushroom Steak
Mushroom Cheesesteaks
Mushroom Pizza Steak
Pepper Steak
Pepper Cheesesteak
Pepper Pizza Steak
Mushroom Pepper Steak
Mushroom Pepper Cheesesteak
Mushroom Pepper Pizza Steak
Roast Pork
Hot Dog
Large Hot Dog
Fish Cake (Small)
Fish Cake (Large)
Ex Cheese
French Fries
Cheese Fries

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