My last post was on a sandwich known to be loved by The King. Today, I’m moving down the line of succession to the Prince; the simple title used by some devotees of Steve’s Prince of Steaks.
I was one of those fans of the Prince for a fairly long time. In fact, their steaks were my favorite for a number of years. But it had been well over a decade since my last visit to their original location, on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philly; and nearly that long since I stopped at the now defunct Steve’s outlet in Center City (they still have two additional locations that I’ve never been to).
More recently, I had read mixed reviews of Steve’s on the Facebook Cheesesteak Gurus scroll. I’ve also been to many of the area’s top steak shops since last summer and gained a lot more knowledge on the subject of cheesesteaks than I possessed when I considered their steaks to be the best.
So I was at least a little skeptical that they would still rate among my favorites. But I had to find out for sure, and there is only one way to do that. I stopped at the original Steve’s, which has been in business since the 70s, for a late Sunday afternoon cheesesteak.
It still has an absolutely classic steak-shop appearance; inside and out. I used to love it almost as much for the old-school vibe as for the quality of their cheesesteaks.
The biggest differences that jumped out at me were the addition of covered outdoor seating and the lack of large containers of peppers and pickles on the front counter for self service. There were also no condiment dispensers to be found. I assume these changes are all due to the impact of Covid.
Naturally, the prices are higher than they used to be. But the menu doesn’t appear to have changed otherwise.
Steve’s has a unique style of steak sandwich that I don’t believe is duplicated or copied by any other shops. Most places chop the meat. A handful, mostly in South Philly, leave the large rectangular slabs of meat whole and just scoop them as is onto the roll. But Steve’s essentially splits the difference. They use small rectangular pieces of ribeye that are probably in the neighborhood of 2” by 3”. The pieces are not chopped. Perhaps 8-10 of them are scooped onto the roll with the fried onions.
It’s hard to see the meat in the photo below because the view of the grill is obscured by the steam and grease that hits the window in front of it.
The grill person may throw slices of cheese on top of the meat for those who order American or Provolone. I’m not really sure, as I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a steak with anything other than Whiz at Steve’s. I don’t know if they make their own cheese sauce or do something extra to Cheese Whiz, but it is wonderful when mixed with the meat and onions. The person who takes the sandwich orders ladles it between the beef and roll after the grill staff finishes with their part in the process and before wrapping the steak. While some people think that the steaks at Steve’s are a little thin in the meat department, there is no skimping when it comes to the Whiz.
There is actually a double-meat option on the menu. I tried it once and thought that it threw the ratio of meat-to-cheese-to-roll off a bit. A one-and-a-half sized portion of meat might be perfect, but that’s not available. In any case, I find the standard amount to be fine.
The roll is also excellent. It’s seedless and wouldn’t fall under the “gourmet roll” heading. But it’s a classic steak roll done well. The crust isn’t crunchy, but it has a very nice chew. And it’s not too doughy.
The combination of those pieces of extremely tender ribeye, all of that great-tasting Whiz, the fried onions, and the roll is just fantastic. I wouldn’t argue with anyone who says that this is what a cheesesteak should taste like.
While I can no longer say it’s my clear cut favorite steak, there aren’t many I would put ahead of it either. I’m still a big fan of The Prince.
It’s good to get back into my cheesesteak routine. Between all of that ham, the ice cream stops and the fact that I went to several places for cheesesteaks recently that also excel at pizza, I was starting to really feel it and needed to take a brief respite. It’s not out of the question that I’ll take a much longer one after finishing this current project, hopefully by the end of summer.