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Pat’s and Geno’s cheeseteaks duke it out

Nick O'Malley, Collegian Staff

Since the dawn of time, man has pondered one simple question:

“Is the cheesesteak the most delicious-looking or most disgusting-looking sandwich on the planet?” The combination of densely-packed steak off the griddle with cheese wiz and onions is the perfect tri-fecta of unhealthy meat, processed topping and bad breath. But it is also absolutely delicious.

To further investigate the matter, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian took a side trip during its journey to and from Washington D.C. this weekend to stop in Philadelphia to cover UMass sports. The side trip, though, also provided the opportunity to delve into the flagship food item of the City of Brotherly Love.

As touristy as it sounds, I decided that I would have to try the two most famous cheesesteak joints in the city, the cross-street rivals Pat’s Famous Steak and Geno’s Steaks. Trying to replicate the authentic cheesesteak experience, I order “one, wiz, with” (one cheesesteak with cheese wiz and onions) from each location.

Because we’d gotten into town so late the night before, I decided to get up early and grab a couple of steaks for breakfast before we left for La Salle. It’s not exactly the best thing for my stomach, but I’m willing to put myself at risk for journalism.

I tried Pat’s first, because it was closer to where we parked. It’s a simple setup: order steaks on the right, everything else on the left. A cheesesteak is $7.50 at Pat’s-a dollar less than Geno’s, but it gets you more steak.

Pat’s features a solid sub roll, topped with a heaping serving of steak with perfectly-cooked onions added. The hot cheese is then added with a little dip of the spatula into the pot and spread across the top.

Unlike most cheesesteaks, it was clean with little greasy drip. It didn’t live up to the stereotype, but was more than welcoming anyway. The cheese on top played a factor into this, although it seeped into the vacant spots in the meat and mostly hung around on top.

For a dollar less, Pat’s brings a lot of meat, which is complimented by the toppings, but doesn’t get all of the ingredients in each bite.

Geno’s came second. The flashier of the two cheesesteak joints, Geno’s plays the celebrity card pretty heavily, with pictures of the owner with everyone from Sylvester Stallone to Oprah adorning the walls. In contrast to Pat’s, where I ate off of a simple park-like table, Geno’s is brighter and reaches for the spotlight. I ate my cheesesteak over a picture of Cher.

As for the cheesesteak itself, it was $8.50 for “one, wiz, with” and contained a mortal amount of steak that was cut into broader, wider pieces with another batch of tasty onions. The main difference, in addition to the style and amount of meat, was the placement of the cheese wiz directly onto the sub roll before the steak was added. The amount of cheese on the bun led to a little bit of drip action, but once again the sandwich was devoid of any greasy steak juice.

This may seem like a minute detail, but the equal distribution of the cheese throughout the entire cheesesteak prevents the meat from getting cold in the Philadelphia wind and ensures cheesiness in every bite. Under normal circumstances, I’d never be one to say there was such a thing as too much meat, but the more manageable amount of shaved steak makes for a more balanced sandwich. The wiz may sound questionable, but it’s definitely worth it to go with the yellow stuff.

It’s easy to determine each joint’s niche. Pat’s is the throwback tried-and-true steak place that gives every customer what they showed up for -steak. Geno’s meanwhile, is the more cosmopolitan of the two, providing a more balanced sandwich. Preference honestly comes down to what the consumer is looking for in a sandwich. Pat’s has a little more substance and meat, while Geno’s has a little more style and cheese.

Nick O’Malley can be reached at

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