With Only moderate success, I’ve been trying to push myself to get to the handful of elite cheesesteak shops that I still haven’t tried. And to that end, today’s lunch was at Oh Brother, which is in Old City, a now long-trendy neighborhood at the northeastern edge of Center City. It also borders and intertwines with Philly’s historic district.
I lived in Old City between 1999 and 2002 – when it was newly trendy – and decided to take a quick walk down the alley in which my old apartment still sits. Bank Street is within a block of Oh Brother, so it was only a minor detour.
I had one of three or four apartments with entrances in the courtyard that is at the bottom of the stairs in the photo below. In fact, I didn’t have to be at work until noon back then and was still in bed in that apartment when I learned about the 9/11 attacks.
The restaurant sits on a stretch of Market Street that is popular today and would also have been well known to the Founding Fathers. There are a couple other cheesesteak shops on the same block, but I have been to both of them several times over the years. Oh Brother is newer and has already developed a big-time reputation among the thousands of sandwich lovers who debate steaks on Facebook’s Cheesesteak Gurus board. In fact, in recent months, I’ve frequently seen it cited as being up in the same class as the top steak shops in Philadelphia. So needless to say, I was very excited about checking them out.
They’ve got seating and were only moderately busy, so I ordered at the counter, grabbed a table, and waited for my steak.
That’s when I noticed this beautiful work of Philly-themed art.
I think the two guys next to Kobe Bryant are Kevin Hart and Bob Saget. Feel free to chime in if you feel otherwise. What I know about modern popular culture probably wouldn’t fill a shot-glass.
It didn’t take very long for my cheesesteak to arrive. As is now my custom, I ordered the optional seeded roll and paid an extra buck for Cooper Sharp cheese. While caramelized onions are also available for an extra fee, I stuck with the basic fried onions.
Unfortunately, this one didn’t live up to my expectations. Of course, it’s probably unfair to walk into a place with very high expectations, but it was unavoidable in this case based on how many raves I had read.
Having said that, I’m not trying to steer people away from the place. It wasn’t a bad sandwich by any means. I was just expecting to be blown away and wasn’t. But judging any sort of food involves a lot of subjectivity. I suspect one of the factors that led to the steak being disappointing to me would be considered a plus by many people. I’m referring to the amount of cheese that was on there.
I’m well aware that the notion of there being too much cheese on a cheesesteak – or almost any other food item, for that matter – is a foreign concept to many. But I don’t fall into that group. I’d rather eat a steak with all of the key ingredients being well proportioned in comparison to each other. One thing I don’t want is for the cheese to overwhelm the meat. That has happened with a couple other sandwiches I’ve downed during this past year of heavy steak-eating. And it happened again today; at least with portions of the sandwich.
On top of the cheese issue, while Oh Brother uses high quality meat – probably ribeye – I thought it could have been a bit juicier and that a little more seasoning would have helped.
As for the roll, it was a good one, but not one of the best seeded rolls I’ve tried; more like middle of the pack. Their regular, unseeded rolls look pretty good in photos I’ve come across online. I may return at some point to give Oh Brother another shot, but try the seedless roll and Whiz instead of Cooper Sharp.
It’s not possible to walk very far in Old City without being reminded of its most famous former resident; Benjamin Franklin. This bust is next to a fire station. Of course, Franklin founded the first volunteer fire company in the American colonies.
A block further west was the cemetery where he and his wife, Deborah, are buried.
My route home took me past South Philadelphia’s sports complex. I’m approaching Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles, whose Super Bowl win now seems only slightly less remote than Ben Franklin walking the streets of Old City. Time for another one.
I’m determined to make it to John’s Roast Pork, one of the city’s long-time vaunted steak shops, by the end of June, and also have a return planned to another highly rated place that I’ve already posted on. I need to refresh my memory if I’m going to be able to give them an accurate rating when I put out my final list.
That leaves one or two other openings for June. We’ll see where I wind up. At some point, I need to cross the Delaware River again to hit a couple more highly-rated steak shops in South Jersey. I believe I’m still on pace to finish this project up by the end of summer.
7 thoughts on “Oh Brother: Serving Cheesesteaks in the Shadows of History”
I’m with you on too much cheese when the cheese isn’t the star — as with meats and eggs. I love the tour through the neighborhood.
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I hear you on being let down because of high, sometimes almost unrealistic expectations. But it’s probably happened to everyone in our line of “work” at least once.
That can’t be Kevin Hart in the painting; in real life he’s not that tall. ;^) And Embiid and Iverson? How about Chamberlain and Erving instead – at least they each won a championship!
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I agree with you. I also am a big Barkley fan, although he also didn’t win a title. But they cater to a younger crowd.