The parody title of this post has nothing to do with the Oregon Trail, covered wagons or the adventures and travails of 19th century American pioneers generally. It’s rather a reference to the fact that I traveled a bit further than usual, and in a northwesterly direction, for this week’s cheesesteak. In fact, I left what is typically regarded as the Philadelphia region for the first time since undertaking this project.
I had intended to remain in the five-county Philly region in Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester Counties – and also hit the major sandwich shops in South Jersey, excluding the shore area, which I have decided to exclude. Aside from the amount of driving it would take to get to the various places of note in Atlantic and Cape May Counties (and I have a vision problem that makes it difficult for me to spend long stints behind the wheel), I haven’t seen enough buzz about any of the places in that area among those who post at the Facebook Cheesesteaks Gurus group – a source I turn to frequently for tips – to lure me down there.
But in recent months, there has been a groundswell of raves about Tony’s of West Reading in Berks County, which borders Chester and Montco to the northwest. I tried to ignore them and was successful for a while. But all the drool-worthy photos and people sounding like religious converts after trying Tony’s for the first time eventually wore me down.
I placed an advance order last night on their website for lunch today and hit the road earlier than usual this morning. On a bright and scorching day, I arrived in West Reading just a few minutes before my order was due to be picked up.
Tony’s has no indoor seating. In fact, customers don’t even enter the shop. There is a takeout window along with a couple small outdoor tables; which was unfortunate given the temperature and the extent to which there was no escaping the sun without going indoors today. I decided to eat in my car, which was parked about a block away from the shop, and left the air-conditioner running for most of what was a fast meal.
Tony’s steaks are served on 10-inch rolls. While that’s an inch or two shorter than what you’ll get at many steak shops, they pile a lot of shaved ribeye on those rolls. Don’t worry about still being hungry after eating one of these cheesesteaks. You won’t be – unless you have a freak appetite.
There is a choice to make when ordering a steak from Tony’s. They offer both a standard cheesesteak and a juiced up one called The Passyunk Prime; named after one of South Philly’s major thoroughfares, which also is the home of a couple of the city’s best known steak shops. The latter includes Prime ribeye, Cooper Sharp cheese sauce – as opposed to slices – and fried Vidalia onions on your choice of a seeded or seedless Liscio’s roll.
Was there ever any question as to which one I would order? I wasn’t driving that far for the ordinary steak. In fact, given my desire to always seek out the best, I’d have gone for the Passyunk Prime steak even if Tony’s was across the street from my house.
I have a strong preference for Liscio’s seeded rolls over the unseeded, so I went with one of those. As I discussed in my post on Avenue Steaks, they bake their seeded rolls specially for their various customers, so they differ from shop to shop. I’ve had them at probably four or five places and have never been disappointed with the quality. Today’s was no exception. It was much softer and less crusty than the roll I had at Avenue, but still excellent, with a wonderfully chewy character.
In addition to being plentiful, the meat lived up to its prime billing. It was definitely a cut above what I’m used to for cheesesteaks.
I was a little concerned in advance about whether I’d like the Cooper Sharp sauce, but it wasn’t an issue. There was a lot of it, but not to the point of overwhelming the meat. And they were blended together beautifully.
The Vidalia onions were also a great addition.
It all came together extremely well.
While driving home, I gave some consideration to whether Tony’s should be included in my final rankings if they make my top 10 in light of technically being outside of the Philadelphia region. I haven’t made a decision on that, but I also haven’t determined all of the shops that will be on the list in the end. So I’ll refrain from putting the cart before the horse and let the matter wait for a later date.