Philly cheesesteaks and Celebrifree

Daniel and I recently spent a weekend in Philly with our friends April and Josh. Before I tell you more about that, I want to announce a new blog I just started.

You might remember that I usually give up sweets every year for lent. Now that I'm 7 1/2 months pregnant, there's no way I can deprive myself of dessert. This year, I'm going to give up my other guilty pleasure: celebrities. Since I think this decision will make for a very interesting 40 days, I've decided to track my progress on a second blog called Celebrifree. I hope to update it every day or so with news on how I'm doing, running tallies on all the celeb info that gets thrown my way, and links to articles I finally have time to read now that I'm not wasting my time on celeb sites. I'm hoping it becomes a place where people can share their own views about our celebrity-obsessed culture and who knows? Maybe it'll help me care a little bit less about celebrities, but I can't make any promises! Check out my first post and stay tuned for more.

Now on to Philly.. As you all know, I was very sad about April and Josh's departure from NYC in November, so with our baby on the way, Daniel and I decided to visit them now, while we could. From the minute we arrived, April and Josh were amazing hosts and together we ate our way through the city of Brotherly Love.

On our first night, we had dinner at Branzino, an Italian BYOB in walking distance from their apartment on Rittenhouse Square. The place was packed and I was happy to hear a big group of Italians the minute I walked in. We weren't completely blown away by the food, but the brownstone-style space was charming and the veal cutlet April ordered would be reason alone to go back.

Afterward, we were treated to late-night sweets and drinks at our friend Lee's apartment, a proud Philly native who Daniel and I went to college with. He even set up an assortment of teas and sliced lemon for me, the pregnant lady. It had been over a year since we'd seen him and I was so touched by his warm hospitality. Thanks Lee!

The next day, after a hearty breakfast with pastries from Metropolitan Bakery and a delicious zucchini and egg casserole that April made using a recipe from Allrecipes.com, we headed to some Italian markets in South Philly.

This was also my first introduction to the wild world of Philly cheesesteaks since we passed by two popular places packed with locals and very few, if any, tourists. I was fascinated.

I knew Philly cheesesteaks were a big deal in Philly, but it was freezing out and the lines were long. At one point, an ambulance drove by and blared over its loud speaker that better cheeseteaks were just a few feet away at a different location.

Cheesesteaks were on our agenda as well, but April and Josh wanted to take us to Tony Luke's, a spot they hadn't tried yet. Before heading there, we stopped in an Italian market where Daniel and I picked up four bags of pasta, then all four of us shared a tub of fresh mozzarella balls, followed by slices at a nearby pizzeria before it was time for cheesesteaks.

April and Josh warned me that ordering a Philly cheesesteak can be intimidating, so I let Daniel do the honors. We waited on some benches for our names to be called, then retrieved some enormous sandwiches.

At this point, I was starving and ready to dive in. This was truly a momentous occasion. I'd only had a Philly cheeseteak once in my life and that was at Carl's Steaks, a great place in New York.

These sandwiches, however, left me wanting more (April, Josh and Daniel seemed to feel the same way). I found the amount of steak overwhelming and in my opinion, just fried onions and cheese didn't cut it. I needed some kind of sauce, preferably a hot one. I could have sworn that my cheesesteak from Carl's came with one. I tried dipping this sandwich in some ketchup, but that didn't do the trick. I made some jokes about how if I lived in Philly, I'd start my own New York style cheeseteak stand and serve them with hot sauce. Josh and April advised me to talk softly. They didn't want me to get beaten up.

I'm not knocking cheesesteaks in any way and I know that Philly natives take them very, very seriously, but as of right now, I'm not sold. I'd prefer a cheesburger or slice of pizza any day. So tell me all you Philly natives or cheesesteak lovers, what's the secret to a really good one and who has the best in Philly? We'll definitely be back to visit April and Josh and I'm eager to give this Pennyslvania staple another try.

Our last meal in Philly was at an amazing tapas restaurant, Amada. We went there just a few hours after our cheesesteak outing and though none of us were really hungry, we managed to pack in a ton of food. I forgot to take any pictures, but I highly recommend this place. The decor was amazing -- dark and sexy with really cool light fixtures, and everything we ordered, from garlic shrimp to duck and short rib flatbreads to fresh queso de cabra with balsamic strawberries, was delicious.

Thanks A & J for a great visit. We can't wait to come back!

Where We Ate

261 S 17th Street

Metropolitan Bakery
Multiple locations

Tony Luke's
39 E Oregon Avenue

217 Chestnut Street

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April said...

Lia - thanks for writing up your Philly visit - it was a fun weekend!

The other night we ate at Pumpkin and thought of you guys. This place was amazingly delicious - they use all local ingredients, and it's BYOB, another plus. We will def have to go back next time you are in town.

Also, I'm so sorry Tony Luke's was so sub par. I swear Pat's or Jim's are THE places to go for cheesesteaks and you will definitely know why.

Anonymous said...

We'll make a cheese steak fan of you yet Lia!

Tony Luke's called - they want another shot. I knew you couldn't resist the hot sauce suggestion. There is no way that came standard on any real deal chstk my friend.

Had so much fun with you guys - and really enjoyed reading this.


Lia said...

A & J: Don't you worry -- I'm not giving up on cheesesteaks yet! I'm ready for another round of tasting. Just need to plan my next trip. Thanks again for all the fun!

Anonymous said...

As a cheesesteak lover, I will tell you the way I eat mine, and how my husband eats his ( we are from Baltimore, MD) I eat mine with provolone and everything (lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and hotts) with light fried onions on a toasted bun. My husband eats his with everything, american cheese and extra mushrooms.
Most people think it's too much on there, but I am telling you..they are awesome


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