When returning to the Philadelphia airport from a family reunion beach vacation on Long Beach Island at the Jersey shore in 2010, my son Jeff insisted that we make a stop in South Philadelphia because he had to try the famous cheesesteaks at Geno’s and Pat’s.
I was concerned that he might not make his flight since we were running late, but he didn’t care since he just had to go there and try them both to see which one was better. I grew up in South Jersey across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, but that was the first time I had visited these famous cheesesteak places.
There has been continuous extreme competition (almost war) between two restaurants directly across from each other at the “X” shaped intersection of South 9th St and East Passyunk Ave in South Philadelphia, where they are crossed by Wharton St and Latona St. For those not familiar with a Philly cheesesteak, it consists of thinly sliced rib-eye steak, melted cheese, oven-fresh baked bread and delicately grilled onions.
Pat’s King of Steaks started his restaurant when became tired of eating hot dogs as a street vendor and invented the steak sandwich in 1933. Geno’s Steaks was established in 1966, and the owner claimed that he added cheese on top, and thus invented the classic Philly cheese steak. Pat later one-upped him by introducing Cheese Whiz, which has become the topping of choice since then. Pat chops up his meat, Geno’s does not.
These twin shrines have drawn rock stars, college kids, and politicians for almost 50 years (and us). The cheesesteak has since become a signature dish for the city of Philadelphia. There was an old Fortune article from May 29, 2003 called “Sandwich Superheroes“, which talked about how Philadelphia’s cheese-steak kings have fought for more than 30 years.
Here’s a photo of Geno’s Steaks that I took when we visited. They’re very busy but the line moves quickly so you have to know how to order properly; my son had prompted me to say “I want a philly cheesesteak, wiz wit”, which is slang for “with cheese whiz, “wit” onions – and that’s what I got with fries and a drink. You can find additional information about Geno’s Steaks at their Website as well as Wikipedia.
And on the opposite corner is Pat’s King of Steaks (also known as Pat’s Steaks), which is Geno’s rival cheesesteak restaurant. It was founded in 1930 by brothers, Pat and Harry Olivieri, who are credited with the creation of the Philly Cheesesteak. It’s not as flashy as Geno’s but its menu is very similar. We also had a cheesesteak there too, but frankly I’m not sure I could really tell that much difference between them, but they were both very good. And of course, it’s the whole experience and atmosphere that makes this a special place to visit. You can find additional information about Pat’s Steaks at their Website as well as Wikipedia.
If you want to visit, here a segment of a Google Map which shows where they are located directly opposite each other at this intersection of South 9th St and East Passyunk Ave in South Philadelphia.
As you approach the cheesesteak intersection driving up the one-way South 9th from South Broad St, you pass a large “Sounds of Philadelphia” mural on the side of the Italian Market. It celebrates Philly’s own musicians of the Bandstand era as a tribute to the sound that made South Philadelphia famous in the 1950s and ‘60s — a sound that not only defined Philadelphia, but an entire era.
It features signed pictures of famous music people from South Philly: Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Jerry Blavat (top row), Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Al Martino, and Eddie Fisher (bottom row).
Frankie Avalon is an American actor, singer, playwright, and former teen idol. Here’s an old video when he appeared on Dick Clark’s evening show.
“Venus” by Frankie Avalon (1959)
Bobby Rydell is a professional singer, mainly of rock and roll music. In the early 1960s he was considered a teen idol. Well known tracks include “Wild One” and “Volare”, and he appeared in the movie Bye Bye Birdie.
Fabian is a singer and actor who became popular after performing on American Bandstand; he became a teen idol of the late 1950’s and 1960’s.
Al Martino was an older singer and actor whose greatest success was between the early 1950s and mid-1970s, being described as “one of the great Italian American pop crooners.”
Eddie Fisher was an entertainer and the most successful pop singles artist of the first half of the 1950s, selling millions of records and hosting his own TV show; he also was initially married to Debbie Reynolds (and father of Carrie Fisher of Stars Wars fame), and then next to her best friend, Elizabeth Taylor, and later to Connie Stevens.
Chubby Checker is an American singer-songwriter widely known for popularizing the twist dance style, with his 1960 hit cover of Hank Ballard’s R&B hit “The Twist”. He also popularized the Limbo Rock and its trademark limbo dance, as well as various dance styles such as the fly. He got grownups out dancing on the floor to teenage music. Maybe this will take some readers back in time (like me).
“The Twist” by Chubby Checker on American Bandstand (1960)
Jerry Blavat, also known as “The Geator with The Heator” and “The Boss with the Hot Sauce”, is an American disc jockey known for promoting oldies music on the radio in the Philadelphia area. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I used to listen to him all the time on the radio. I even went on the American Bandstand TV show with Dick Clark, which was quite popular back then and it probably gave Dick Clark his start.
Currently, I use an iPhone 5 for my photos, although these earlier photos were taken in 2010 with a Canon PowerShot A400 which I don’t have any more. I look forward to share more photos with you.