Fast food has its critics and I have to say at the mainstream level (McDonalds, Burger King et al) I am one of them.
I don’t see it as down to a food snobbery thing, as I just don’t particularly like the taste and texture of what is produced by the fast food conglomerates (bar from certain small redeeming elements: McDonalds – Big Mac sauce and the fries; KFC – the coating; Burger King – none) or the industrial processes they deploy. If you do then great – I envy you that sweet spot of cheap and enjoyable.
Compare them, however, to the likes of Bleecker, Patty & Bun, Meat Liquor, Got Beef and Hoof and there is (to me at least) no comparison. OK McDonald etc. are a lot cheaper, but so is a tin of spam and a pot noddle (strongly advisable not to mix the two as it will trigger the end of days and rightly)!! A punch in the face is also free if you say the wrong thing to certain people.
I actually don’t think I have had a BK, McD or KFC in the last 20 years, so maybe they have improved? Doubt it, as being the same is sort of their modus operandi, but you never know.
I do think it is sad that the likely big winners when we finally come out of lockdown will be the chains – who wants identical food offerings in each and every town and city? We really should be supporting the indies that make each town and city so very different.
Anyhow properly done fast food (that is all but fast in the making) is a thing of beauty. A medium rare burger or a beautifully crispy coated bit of fried chicken, done properly, with well sourced ingredients is something I happily swoon over.
This bring me to the Philly Cheesesteak, a classic piece of Americana born in Philadelphia. Beef steak, a load of cheese and fried onion, all crammed into Italian bread – the Rocky Balboa of sandwiches. Its beauty is its simplicity, being thinly sliced/chopped (ideally ribeye) steak with fried onions, sat in an Italian hoagie roll and then smothered in melted cheese (provalone, American cheese or cheese wiz/whiz – the later being one of my guilty pleasures). In theory, that is it and why would you need any more?
Bearing in mine how great that sounds and how simple it seems, it does seem odd to me how rarely you come across it on menus in the UK and when you do something is often amiss.
I have not had (to date) in the UK a Philly cheesesteak that is fit to bear the name. Either the bread (crust too thick), the steak (cut too thick) or the cheese (not provolone, American or, my preferred, wiz/whiz) are wrong. There also seems to be a desire (totally unnecessarily in my view) to jazz it up a bit by adding “extras”. Why, when all you need is steak, onion, cheese and bread? I concede I could live with peppers or mushrooms in the mix, but not at the expense of the steak portion.
This brings me to Passyunk Avenue, a place in Fitzrovia, London founded by people who having failed to find (in London) a decent Philly Cheesesteak thought sod it we will fill the gap and set up shop themselves.
It rather pains me that I have not (on my many work trips to London over the last few years) come across this place before our current (never ending) incarceration.
My desperation for the different led me to ordering one of the Passyunk Avenue’s DIY kits that they deliver nationwide. I initially opted for the cheesesteak one, then quickly changed my mine when I realised it was for 4 (with just Mrs. SF and me for the forseeable this seemed overkill even to me). I, therefore, changed it to the steak & wings love bundle (the “love” being a reference to Philly being known as the “City of Brotherly Love” – Philadelphia’s literal meaning that in Ancient Greek, bastardised by me to “Smotherly love”).
This was stated to consist of enough to make 2 portion of buffalo wings and 2 cheesesteaks.
It was delivered in a huge box
within which was what looks like a cushion and uncooked bread.Said cushion, however, contained all the goodies.
The instructions, worryingly for me, allude to a need for culinary skills to do justice to ingredients 😬.
All ready to go, I set to my task.
First up were the wings (12 in total), which got 15 mins each side in a hot (200 C) oven and then a further 5 mins (added by me) to crisp them up a bit more (suspect your oven will dictate the timings).
I then doused them in the buffalo sauceand we were ready to roll/wing it.
Very meaty wings, with a good coating and a really nice piquancy to the buffalo sauce.
Great on their own and even better with the very punchy blue cheese dip.Very pleased with these have to say
On to the main event, I only made one the first day, thus only used half the ingredients.
First up was the Italian bread. This is deemed to be an very important part of a Philly cheesesteak, with it being essential to not just use any old bread (the thinness of the crust is key). Here it comes part cooked and needing (in my oven ) a 5 mins baking time.
The instructions say 3-4 mins at 220, but at that point mine looked a little pallid hence the extra cook time. Oddly you need to wet the bread before hand (I ran a hand under the tap and then said hand all over the bread). This gave it a nice crisp, but crucially, thin crust and a soft fluffy interior (as it should be).
Whilst the bread was cooling off wrapped in a tea towel, I was preparing the ribeye.
The hard work of slicing it ultra thin had been done hereand I opted for the chopped steak approach (there are strong views in Philly as to whether it should be chopped or remain just thinly sliced) for this first attempt.
All that was added to the steak was salt and pepper and the fried off onion.
Once done (very quick process), it was a case of slicing the bread on the horizontal and stuffing it with the steak and onions and then pouring on the heated up cheese wiz (homemade, rather than bought in, and cheddar based).
The portions are very generous and this was a fully loaded, bursting at the seams (much like my lockdown physic), sarnie.Pure, unadultorated, Philly filth this.Crisp on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside bread, tender (well flavoured) ribeye (from Tom Hixson of Smithfield) and sweet (sweated off) onion, bound together by gooey cheese wiz (just the right texture and not synthetic at all, with a cheddary hit). It was, I have to say, just glorious.
Fast and fabulous, I would say.
For my second cheesesteak, I tried it based on not chopping the steak (al a Geno’s rather than Pat’s King of Steaks). I operated on a layered approach, pouring the cheese wiz directly on to the bread then adding layers of steak and then wiz until I nearly ran out of wiz. I then adding the onions, with a final application of wiz.I think, on balance, I referred the unchopped steak approach. You seem to get more of the very good beef flavour coming through with the ribeye slices remaining intact. Don’t get me wrong, the chopped approach was still really good, but the cheese dominated more than the steak.
Wine wise you need something gutzy with a cheesesteak. I would go for a cabernet franc, such as this Argie number
I actually went for a beer with my first one and this Vault City Brewing (available from the Bottleshop and Pops ‘N’ Hops) blood orange sour numberwas perfect in cutting through the richness of the cheesesteak.
For the second cheesesteak I had a “Gose goes to Hollywood” (also based on oranges)Nice enough, but a bit watery and not a patch on the Vault City number.
With the wings, the spicy buffalo sauce and pungent blue cheese dip makes it very tricky to pair. I would go (predicably) for a sherry, such as this amontillado (purchased from Curado/ Ultracomdia)An oloroso (courtsey of Mercado 44) would work well with the cheesesteak.
Really enjoyed this kit – which made for a meal of pure cheesy filth.
Costs wise the “for 2” kit was £29.99 (with a £4.50 delivery charge)
I think the price is fair in terms of the quality and quantity of what you get, as well as the fact that a blooming big, insulated, box has to transported from London.
Would I order again? Yes, although I really hope I get the chance in the not too distant future to visit the restaurant and have one made for me.
Interesting to see that Milkwood here in Cardiff have a cheesesteak on the menu.
Must get one to compare.
Order are via their website: https://passyunkavenue.shop/collections/lovebundles
Deliveries are on Fridays.