Saturday, February 16, 2008

Denver Trip Report: Part 3 -- Mile High Cheesesteaks

Though I jokingly throw the term "Hungover Gourmet" around pretty liberally I am hardly what you would call a "snob" when it comes to what I'll eat and drink in the pursuit of a good time.

My beer taste runs the gamut from plebian to top shelf. I love a great, freshly grilled burger as much as a greasy fried fast food one. And, though I prefer my seafood fresh off the boat I'm certainly not opposed to the occasional Filet-O-Fish.

But there's one foodstuff that I simply won't tolerate when it's not executed properly and that's the regal Philly Cheesesteak, the Delaware Valley's finest culinary contribution. (Sorry, Tastykake lovers and Wawa fanatics.)

In fact, I'm on record in more than one article, message board and forum suggesting that if it's not made within 30 miles of the hat atop Billy Penn's head that once acted as a "stop building when you reach here" measuring stick in the City of Brotherly Lunch, it's not worth eating.

And certainly can't be called a Philly Cheesesteak, or even a Cheesesteak as far as I'm concerned.

I have, however, always maintained that such a rule needs an asterisk next to it because of one major variable: Amoroso's rolls.

While not every PCS purveyor worth their weight in Cheez Wiz adheres to the rule that a steak needs an Amoroso's roll (see Steve's Prince of Steaks, for example), I've long held the belief that the rolls – slightly crusty on the outside, sweet and chewy inside – can elevate even a mediocre sandwich to a higher plane.

So it was with great interest that we headed out on Saturday night in search of A Taste of Philly, a small chain of Denver-area eateries that had two things going for them. One, the founders and owners were Philly-area residents until they moved to the Mile High City. Two, and this is more important than anything, they have Amoroso's rolls shipped in to give their signature sandwich an authentic touch of "Yo".

After taking what we'll call the "scenic route" to reach our destination we finally spied the original Denver home of A Taste of Philly (2432 S Colorado Blvd, (303) 757-3944). Located in a strip mall next to a massage joint offering Hot Oil Massage, Couples Rooms and something called a Table Shower (I'm afraid to ask), A Taste of Philly has all the charm and ambiance of Dallesandro's, a favorite PCS joint from our last tour. In other words, there's a handful of tables, a smattering of chairs and a certifiably Philly vibe of "Whadda you want?" hanging in the air.

Excuse me, I've got something in my eye I need to take care of. Sniff... okay, I'm better now.

The local flavor (a mere 1756 miles from my apartment at 21st and Pine) is further enhanced by a Tastykake display, a picture of Phillies great Mike Schmidt, an Amoroso's sign, and various shots of the Philly skyline. Another wall is dominated by framed awards and newspaper articles touting this as the Best Philly Cheesesteak in the area, but we'll be the judges of that. Frankly, I don't care what the Colorado-based writer of some Denver area alt-weekly thinks. I grew up – and out – on the things.

In yet another nod to its Philly roots, the group of 20-something employees who are filling most of the tables and chairs when we pull up scatter to the kitchen when we walk in and only filter back out when we're almost done. Gruff but not rude, the staff has a Philly flavor that probably just comes with the territory.

Glancing up to look at the menu we spy the tell-tale Amoroso's shipping boxes and pray that the steak is halfway decent and not lean roast beef or some other abomination. (A "steak sandwich" once spotted on a Pittsburgh chain eatery menu was literally ground hamburger. I died a little inside that day.)

We order our sandwiches and wait for the moment of truth. Though they got my sandwich wrong – I ordered a Cheesesteak Hoagie but received a plain Cheesesteak – I wasn't about to wait another minute to dig in. First off, my hunger had taken over all rational thought and second, the smell of the cooking steak and the sight of the long Amoroso's rolls being yanked apart was all I needed.

Though the hoagie variety (as sampled by JT) could have used a more liberal application of fixings, we both agreed that they'd done good by the name A Taste of Philly. Each roll featured a heaping helping of chopped, tenderized steak with a liberal meat-to-cheese ratio. Though the grills obviously don't see enough action to have the well-seasoned flavor of the joints you'll find scattered around Philly and New Jersey, the meat was tasty and without a hint of the chewy, grisly variety you'll find at some establishments. And despite the decidedly adult nature of the neighboring establishment there wasn't a hint of Lysol or any industrial strength disinfectant in the air. (I'm looking at you Jim's!)

Here's perhaps the best compliment I can give A Taste of Philly. If they were located in the Delaware Valley it'd be a frequent stop during my return visits to the area. A far better sandwich than the likes of Jim's, Pat's or Geno's, this Taste of Philly is alright by me.

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