Thursday, July 29, 2010
America's #1 Sandwich? Really?
Ah, the Philly cheesesteak: An Italian roll packed with chopped steak, glistening gloriously with grease, oozing with cheese that's been processed to perfection. Can anything be more appealing?
Whether you get yours whiz-wit, provolone-wit-out, from Geno's or Pat's, we can all agree that this kingly morsel is Philly's greatest contribution to society...Oh yea, and the Declaration of Independence...I guess that one puts us on the map too.
So how can you improve such a classic sandwich? Well, bacon for starters. Better yet, applewood-smoked bacon. Then you could chop up filet mignon in place of the traditional rib-eye. How about encasing it in a trendy ciabatta roll? Maybe throw in some Sriracha mayo. And hell, why not some lettuce, tomato and carmelized onions?
This is the exact formula Vesuvio at 8th and Fitzwater invented for their Cheesesteak BLT. And for the bar/restaurant's brilliance, the NBC Today Show declared their sandwich the best in the country.
I wandered over there the other day to sample this tantalizing theory. It sounded bullet-proof, a sure-fire crowd pleaser, a shimmering apex of cheesesteak innovation. So no need to check Yelp or MenuPages for reviews, right? Wrong. Had I done that, I would have saved $20 and some faith in America's collective judgment.
Now, when you're seated at a bar, sipping delicious craft-brew, hunger clawing at your innards, knowing you've just ordered the best sandwich the good ol' U.S. of A. has to offer, it's hard not to let your expectations tower skyward. When my sandwich was brought to me, however, those expectations toppled and plummeted to the Earth like an imploding skyscraper.
Throughout my time in the cooking biz, a basic culinary principle has been bludgeoned again and again into my brain: the eyes get the first taste. If a dish looks good aesthetically and the eyes are pleased, the taste buds are sure to follow. What my server placed in front of me looked like a skimpy, slopped together mess of a sandwich. In short, my eyes were eating a meager mockery of the images and videos they'd sampled earlier online.
Okay, okay, I told myself. This is a cheesesteak, not a foie gras pate. As long as it's got it in the flavor department, that's all that counts. So I dug in, still confident I was holding a specimen worthy of the title "America's #1 Sandwich." But as I worked my way through the sandwich, chewing slowly, searching for each flavor, my taste buds wound up as disappointed as my eyes.
The filet mignon--the focal point of the meal--was dry and had a crunchy charring indicative of being overcooked on a flat-top grill. This is filet-fucking-mignon, the prime cut of the tenderloin, the softest, juiciest part of the cow, and they incinerated it. They might as well have served me beef jerky.
Additionally, I could scarcely taste the Sriracha. The tomatoes had that artificially-ripened flavor. And was there even bacon under that insipid blanket of provolone? I couldn't really taste it, and I wasn't about to pick through the mess to find it.
When I got home, disappointed, dejected and disillusioned, I did a little more homework and found that this title was awarded democratically; viewers of the Today Show could go online and and vote for the sandwich that sounded best. In theory this sandwich certainly seems worthy of such prestige. In practice, however, Vesuvio's Cheesesteak BLT falls well short of the hype and really doesn't even qualify as good bar-food.