Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Evolution of the Philly Cheesesteak

Mama’s Pizzeria
426 Belmont Ave.
Bala Cynwyd, PA

Going to the original source can be fun.

If you find yourself stuck in Buffalo, by all means, stop by the Anchor Bar, where the Buffalo wing was invented.

If you are cruising through the French Quarter, grab an original Muffuletta at the Central Grocery.

And when in the City of Brotherly Love, a stop by the corner of East Passyunk and 9th where the Philly Cheesesteak was first created is an obligatory stop on any tourist’s itinerary.

But you know what? Sometimes being first does not mean being best.

Cheap sinewy beef tossed on a hard chewy roll slathered in Cheese Wiz. That’s what they’ve been serving at Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly since 1933.

Come on, man. You can do better than that.

But you are going to have to venture out to the Philly suburbs to a place called Mama’s Pizzeria to get it.

A modest Italian pizzeria deep in the heart of Philadelphia’s suburban hell might seem like a strange place to find a perfected version of the Philly Cheesesteak.

But not necessarily, if you think about.

After all, it was Italian immigrants to Eastern Pennsylvania who invented the Philly Cheesesteak in the first place.

It makes some sense that it takes an Italian pizza chef to perfect it.

And perfect it, Paul Castellucci did here at this little joint on Belmont Avenue.

Castellucci’s Philly has been voted best Cheesesteak in Philadelphia.

That’s like being named the drunkest guy at a NASCAR race. Pretty stiff competition.

Uncharacteristically, I ordered the “mini” version because I planned on eating again later that night.

Good call. The “mini” Philly Cheesesteak at Mama’s was stuffed with enough protein to tide me over for at least twelve hours.

It truly was a thing of beauty.

Tender and succulent, the beef just melted in my mouth. But it was the blend of gourmet cheese and caramelized grilled onions that melded right into the beef that elevated this sandwich to shirt-buying proportions.

Meat and cheese – not separate entities – but joined together as one in holy matrimony.

Each bite yielded an exquisite cheesy, beefy comingling of luxurious flavor.

The fresh baked Italian bread softened the squooshy goodness even further.

The ambiance of Mama’s cozy upstairs dining room compliments the texture of its world class sandwiches.

Soft pink, floral artwork and flowery vinyl table coverings lead customers to feel they are dining in an old fashioned Italian grandmother’s dining room.

Out of style? For sure.

But comforting as steamy tender beef and melted cheese.

This is about as far removed from the classic South Philly experience you can get.

At Pat’s and Geno’s, some mob-looking guy barks “Wit or witout?” As you eat your Cheesesteak standing up on a crowded sidewalk under the harsh glare of buzzing florescent lights.

Here, the family next to me bows their head in prayer just before sinking their teeth into the soft goodness of Philly’s most gourmet Cheesesteaks while your grandmother’s favorite elevator music plays in the background.

Civilized. Soft. Comforting.

It’s good to see that even the most blue collar of culinary inventions can evolve. Even the Philly Cheesesteak.

Rating: Bought the Shirt!

Mama's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


  1. Just tried this place (8/7/12) and it was GREAT!
    Best cheesesteak I've had in this area, and I've been living here since 1976.

    I got the "mini" with grilled onions and mushrooms. Superb!

    Bob in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

  2. Yes, it is the best in Philadelphia (the pizza is good also). I go there when I return to the area and sometimes have a bunch of steaks shipped frozen to Iowa.