It's easy to tell that you're obsessed with good food when you plan a trip around where you want to eat. It was perfect timing that Emeline was ready to go home from UDel for Christmas when Charlie and I needed a ride home from D.C., and I knew that we were destined to stop in Philly for some cheesesteak. Why mess with fate? I'll tell you, I researched the best place to get cheesesteaks for like a month before the main event. I wanted to avoid Pat's and Geno's, just like I avoid Katz's in NYC, but besides that I needed a little direction from those in the know. A few enquiries later, Tony Luke's it was.
Tony Luke's is located in South Philly right next to the I-95, very close to all of the sports stadiums of the city. The area is semi-industrial and strip-club laden, so upon arrival I knew I had made the right choice. I read a lot of great things about TL's roast pork and broccoli rabe sandwich, so we resolved to share one pork and one cheesesteak between the three of us. I had been having inner dialogue with myself for a week trying to decide whether we would take the plunge and go for cheese wiz on the steak or not, but when game day came, I couldn't pull the trigger. The (gruff) woman taking our order said she doesn't like wiz, so I took her lead and went with american cheese and fried onions.
The pork and broccoli rabe above was warm, moist, messy and delicious. The bread had a nice crusty and soft dichotomy going on and the bitterness of the rabe was countered nicely by the pork. The sandwich was quite garlicky which had me panicking for a moment (see: garlic allergy) but thankfully, dangerous lines were left uncrossed.
The cheesesteak was melt-in-mouth delicious. It had the same bread as the pork sandwich but it was more neatly composed. You can see that we had it sliced in three to share, but it normally arrives un-cut and uncensored, ready to get down and dirty. The cheese was carefully melted into the middle of the sandwich with the onions to ensure that it was included in every bite, and the steak was tender and thinly sliced. There was a condiment bar that included peppers and pickles to be added into the sandwiches and although we did not indulge we noticed other customers stocking up. (Many of the other patrons were old, single men. Is this the normal demographic for cheesesteak eaters? I don't know.)
I've read a lot about long lines and wait times at Tony Luke's, but around 11:45 am when we were there we were at the table with our food within about 15 minutes. I think this spot is popular with sports-fans, so it might be good to avoid around game time, unless you love hoards of sports-fans. The near-I95 location is quite convenient and I can imagine this being a dangerous temptation next time I'm on the road in the area. Or on any road in a 100 mile vicinity. I can't compare this sandwich to others as it was my first from the motherland, but I can say that it was damn good and worth a trip to Philly.
Tony Luke's: 35 E. Oregon Ave., Philadelphia, PA. (215) 551-5725