Friday, November 30, 2018

Steve's Prince of Steaks (16th Street, Philadelphia)

Several years ago, before my wife and I welcomed our darling eating machine daughter into the world, we would meet up with friends for food-related excursions.

Sometimes it was a huge group from the old Roadfood forum gathering at G&M in Maryland for all things crab, like their softball-sized crab cakes.

Other times we'd get the bright idea to drive around Philly on the hottest, stickiest day of the year and tour varied cheesesteak joints. Like, five or six of them.

And on that day, as the sun beat down and the humid, subway air belched its way from the ground beneath us (or maybe that was just me), we ended our trek at Steve's Prince of Steaks on Bustleton Ave. There, some participants threw in the towel and couldn't eat another bite while the brave among us soldiered on, eating one... more... sandwich... a river of wiz and slightly less-processed cheese products cascading down our throats, grease dripping on our sun-baked arms, convincing ourselves that we'd eat salads all week to make up for this gluttony. (By the way, you can still read all about the High Steaks Showdown at The Hungover Gourmet website or in printed copies of that award-winning issue.)

When all the votes were tallied, Steve's ended up a close second to Dallasendro's (another personal fave) with points taken off by several voters for what some considered a sketchy bathroom.

These days, most of my trips to Philly feature scarfing down Wawa while enjoying film festivals at International House, or our annual Christmas excursion complete with the vintage light show at Macy's and a trip to Reading Terminal Market for a roast pork sandwich from DiNic's. In other words, I have to find my cheesesteak fixes where I can get 'em, even if that means the Korean bulgogi and beer cheese sandwich at The Point in Towson, MD or a no frills but tasty cheesesteak from The Gateway on LBI after a day of surf fishing.

So when some friends mentioned trekking up to Philly the Saturday after Thanksgiving in order to see legendary drive-in film critic Joe Bob Briggs give a talk about 'How Rednecks Saved Hollywood' I was definitely intrigued. When they suggested we could head up early and make a stop at Steve's for dinner, I was hooked.

While crummy weather and roads packed with holiday travelers and shoppers did their best to keep us from our cheesesteak rendezvous, we were undeterred. Though I always prefer to hit the original location whenever possible, the Steve's on 16th Street was near covered parking and much closer to our North Philly destination, so that became our stop of choice on this day.

And while $9 for a half hour park job sounded steep, the jump to $19 at 31 minutes made it sound like a bargain. And a challenge.

As the clock ticked we dodged the raindrops and hustled through the doors into Steve's brightly lit but no frills eatery (silver tables, light as air chairs and no restrooms). After re-familiarizing myself with the menu and the ordering "rules", I stepped up and asked for a Cheesesteak (American) With (Fried Onions) and 'Shrooms. Though intrigued by such menu items as the Shrimp Roll ($2), this trip was all about speed eating a cheesesteak. There will always be a next time.

With our orders placed we grabbed a recently unoccupied table and thanked the heavens we arrived when we did, as a couple large groups streamed through the doors just after we sat down. Our sandwiches arrived within minutes, with freshly grilled meat (a big Steve's selling point!) and ooozing cheese barely contained by the long, flat rolls.

Unencumbered by shrimp rolls we dug in and I was briefly transported back to that time when I could still wolf down (parts of) five or six cheesesteaks in an afternoon. Those days are long gone but it's nice to know that while times have changed and some things will never be the same, you can still count on Steve's Prince of Steaks to deliver a timeless Philly favorite. – Dan Taylor

Dan Taylor is the editor of The Hungover Gourmet and a lifelong cheesesteak aficionado. He's still searching for a good Baltimore cheesesteak joint.

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