Got ambiance? Observe the splattered hot sauce underfoot, the dropped and crushed French fries on the sidewalk. Listen to the rumble of trucks going past on their way to or from the Italian market. Smell the mingling of cheap after-shave lotion and fancy fragrances on customers in line – both aromas overwhelmed, as the line approaches the take-out window, by the powerhouse aroma of steak and onions sizzling on a hot grill. Dining facilities are quite comfortable, if you are comfortable standing up. At Pat’s the dining room is the sidewalk, and experienced customers have perfected a slightly bent-forward posture as they stand and eat, thus ensuring that drippage hits the concrete rather than their shoes.
It is said that Pat Olivieri invented the cheese steak in 1930. His family continues to operate the restaurant, and while connoisseurs enjoy debating the merits of the city’s many cheese steak restaurants (some operated by renegades from Pat’s own family), this joint’s shaved-beef-and-cheese sandwiches on serious Italian bread have stood for decades as the benchmark. Thin flaps of less-than-prime beef are sizzled on a grill alongside onions and hefted into a roll (with or without some of those onions), then a trowel of melted Cheese Whiz is dripped on top. That’s the classic steak sandwich. Peppers, mushrooms, pizza sauce, and extra cheese are all extra-cost options; and if you wish to dude it up further, there are big glass jars with hot sauce and peppers near the take-out windows.
It is a combination of plebeian ingredients that transcend their lowly status and become something … if not aristocratic, then certainly distinguished. Side your sandwich with a cup full of cheese fries and eat standing up on the sidewalk under harsh lights: to the Roadfood connoisseur, this is echt Philadelphia.