After threatening to do so in a post a couple weeks ago, I finally crossed the Delaware today – not to fight Hessian mercenaries, but to eat cheesesteaks. Granted, like General Washington and his troops on that fateful night, I didn’t venture very deep into New Jersey to take care of business.
While most of the elite cheesesteaks in the region are in Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, there are also a handful of notables in South Jersey. I picked up my friend Jim today with plans to try two of them; a half each at Mama’s Meatballs & Pizzeria in Pennsauken and Cockadoodle Dan’s in Palmyra.
We crossed over the Betsy Ross Bridge and only had to drive a couple minutes before arriving at our first stop; Mama’s Meatballs, which was in a small strip of shops and had a big catering delivery truck in the parking lot.
Mama’s is moderately sized inside, but they only have three stools at a counter for those wishing to eat there, making them mainly a takeout and delivery shop.
Those stools were occupied when Jim and I were there, so we split our steak in the parking lot. While waiting for it, I took a shot of a few of their pizza pies that are out for slice service. They looked good. I could see going back there to split another steak and try a slice at some point.
I had read that Mama’s makes their own rolls and noticed these photos of the man who took my order, and I would guess is the owner or manager, doing just that.
And the seeded roll was the highlight of this sandwich. It was tremendous; among the best I’ve had anywhere. Not that the meat, which was chopped a little bigger than average, or the nicely flavored Cooper Sharp cheese, and fried onions were disappointing by any stretch. But they didn’t stand out to the extent the roll did.
The Sun was shining brightly when we took our steak outside to eat it next to my car, making it difficult to get quality photos of the sandwich.
After polishing off our steak at Mama’s Meatballs, we only had to drive 5-10 minutes to get to our next destination – Cockadoodle Dan’s, which sits along Palmyra’s beautiful, old-school main drag. The block that it’s on looks like it traveled out of the first half of the 20th century.
Like Mama’s Meatballs, Dan’s has plenty of open space inside, but they also have tables, and we availed ourselves of one next to the front window after placing our order; another cheesesteak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions.
At first bite, I immediately noticed several major differences between this steak and the one I had earlier at Mama’s Meatballs. First, the roll at Dan’s is good, but not great like the one at Mama’s Meatballs. It’s softer and less crusty. And the meat is chopped more finely. I normally prefer a slightly bigger chop, but I was instantly blown away by how flavorful and juicy the meat on this sandwich was. The grill person at Dan’s goes heavier with the seasoning, and it was to the steak’s benefit. There was also plenty of cheese blended in nicely with it.
Ideally, it would be great to have a Mama’s Meatballs’ roll topped with the meat, cheese and onions from Cockadoodle Dan’s. But of course, that’s not possible, and I feel the need to pronounce a favorite between the two after having tried them back-to-back.
Yes – I always put a ton of emphasis on how important the roll is when rating a cheesesteak. And there is no doubt that the roll at Mama’s Meatballs was better. But I was almost shocked by how good the overall flavor profile of the steak at Cockadoodle Dan’s was when I first bit into it. And that meat-driven flavor profile is my main reason for giving the slightest of edges to Dan’s.
But that is not to take anything away from Mama’s Meatballs. In fact, Jim had a slight preference for them and I highly recommend both places. If you’re in the area, try each and make up your own mind.