Rough interpretations of the cheesesteak aren't that hard to find anymore.
The MEAT franchises have been serving them up for a while, and so do the Diner chains. Red Dog also have them in their sandwich shop on Hoxton square, which we have yet to visit. Camden market apparently has a pitch selling them too. But on hearing that a new stall was serving up 'authentic' versions, we couldn't not check them out.
We hit the monthly Baker Street Quarter market, plonked behind Selfridges, to find three Phillies-shirted Yanks crammed in to a small tent, almost tripping over each other speedily preparing sandwiches on a dinky grill surrounded by a wooden screen looking like it had been constructed from the wreckage of an ikea bookshelf. Inventive.
Ordering was simple enough: you pick your size, your cheese and whether you want it with onions. There is no messing about with peppers, mushrooms or any other extraneous guff that British variations tend to favour. We have much maligned the availability of American cheeses over here but Liberty seemed to have found them, or are surreptitiously shipping them over, in the Whiz, American and provolone options they are offering (the American was actual real-life deluxe Kraft slices, which connoisseurs will know is very different to what we get here in Europe). Dairy fucking gold. Picking which one to have is like weighing up the merits of the first three Star Wars movies.
Waiting for our Provolone wit and Whiz wit orders, we observed prep at work: Thin slices of rib eye were scooped from huge packs and lobbed on the grill. Once browned, spatulas and nifty hands proficiently hack it into little chunks. Pepper was crunched over, onions plonked in, and the concoction was moved into position to have the cheese added and melted. Bewitching.
The Italian roll, aided by some time steaming in the foil wrapper, was nicely soft but still retaining that good kind of chewy pull of the bite. The skinny strips of rib eye gave no resistance, and the sauteed onions were meltably soft. The texture was banging, but the flavour wasn't off the charts. That was where the cheese came in.
The sticky provolone provided a subtle mild and almost nutty sweetness to the sandwich. But the Whiz, the fucking WHIZ guys, was a gorgeous thick, gloopy deep-yellow lava punching hefty hits of salty, cheesy flavour amongst everything. Both great, refinery versus balls-out brashness. We took along a relative aficionado of the cheesesteak (afi¦cion|ado: a British person who has visited Philadelphia and eaten a whole bunch ton of cheesesteaks), and boldly said it was up there with the best he'd tasted.
America it ain't, so the portion sizes aren't as off-the-hook big as you would like, but the ratio of meat-to-cheese-to-bun is solid and you aren't left wishing there was more or less of anything. You just get a pretty damn good cheesesteak.
Now, if someone can start serving up a decent shrimp Po'boy then we're talking...