A Hawaiian shirt-clad tourist in front of me orders a Philly Cheesesteak from the Liberty Cheesesteak food van, parked in its usual place aside the north entrance to Spitalfields Market.
“I’m from Philadelphia,” he announces proudly, “so I wanted to see how it measures up…”
“Okay cool,” replies the chef. “Our owner is a Philadelphian too!”
And it shows. A Philly Cheesesteak is a seemingly simple, but deceptively nuanced sandwich. It classically contains only three ingredients: steak, onions, and cheese. That cheese may also happen to be the unhealthiest foodstuff ever created by the small, family-run company, Kraft Foods Inc.
Cheez Whiz has been dubbed by some as worse for you than cocaine. It’s a relative to the same line of orange ‘dairy’ you might find in a Kraft Cheese Slice here in the UK. In America you’d also find that ‘derivative’ in a squirty can of Easy Cheez; a can that reassuringly asserts on its collar: ‘NO NEED TO REFRIGERATE’.
Personally, I like a bit of Kraft Cheese from time-to-time but I accept that it’s an (ahem!) acquired taste. Perhaps more palatable to Europeans is the accepted alternative, provolone cheese. Liberty Cheesesteak offers either and, having sampled both, we’d recommend the authentic Italian notes. Nonetheless, the Cheez Whiz does appear to be a dialled-back version of their own concoction at Liberty, perhaps with a hint of American Cheese to it as well. Either way it’s suitably molten, gooey and so-wrong-but-so-right.
Then there’s the beef: thinly cut, aged rib beef, diced and mixed with sautéed onions as it cooks on a flattop grill. Again, Liberty comes up smiling – so far so good…
The final stumbling block, and the toughest to replicate here in the UK, is the bread. It has to be a hoagie: a classic, Italian American-style crusty sub roll, noted for its soft, fluffy centre. Some purists will even tell you it has to be an Amoroso Roll from South Philadelphia to be deemed a proper Philly Cheesesteak. Failing that though, Liberty’s own creation does a bang-up job. The thin crust is just flaky and crusty enough to add texture to the softer bread beneath it.