In last week’s post on Angelo’s Pizzeria, I mentioned that there had been a tremendous sense of anticipation leading up to my first visit to Curly’s Creations in the northern suburb of Levittown, Pennsylvania. While it’s a little less clear-cut now, they were unquestionably the most popular steak shop among the roughly 70,000 members of Facebook’s increasingly influential Cheesesteak Gurus group for many months.*
They are still still cited regularly as serving the best steak in the region and remain the clear-cut top choice in the PA burbs. But they now have stiff region-wide competition from Lillo’s in South Jersey, as well as Angelo’s in South Philly.
That first Curly’s steak I had in March didn’t disappoint. In fact, I thought it was at least competitive with the best steaks I’d had until then. But I’ve been to a lot of highly rated steak shops and eaten almost as many extremely impressive cheesesteaks since then, including at the aforementioned Angelo’s and Lillo’s.
So I felt the need to return to Curly’s, both to refresh my memory, as it’s been over five months since my only previous visit, and to see if the additional context I’ve gained since then – in terms of having tried many of the best by now – will have any impact on how I rate their steak.
Curly’s setup hasn’t changed since I was last there. As they recommend, I called in my order the previous day and arrived a few minutes before my designated time. They are a mostly takeout shop, but there are five or six tables in the lobby, where orders are placed and picked up.
Based on what I’ve read, Curly puts a tremendous amount of attention and love into everything he makes. He also has some interesting specials. They rotate daily. The photos I’ve seen of his crab cakes, the Friday special, were extremely enticing But I was of course there for one reason; to eat another one of his massive cheesesteaks – not necessarily in one sitting.
To wash it down, they offer a full array of Kutztown bottled sodas, which I’ve praised in a past post or two. I went with a regular birch beer. They also had white – or color free – birch beer.
Although there was available seating inside, it was a comfortable afternoon, so I decided to eat at one of Curly’s outdoor tables.
There is so much meat and Cooper Sharp cheese packed into these bad boys that it’s a bit of a job just to unwrap and make it presentable. It’s inevitable that at least a little will fall out in the process – then periodically while you’re eating it. But the steak was wrapped in a couple layers of paper, which I spread out to catch it all. I also grabbed a plastic fork from their utensils and condiments table before heading out to help with the job of keeping the sandwich together.
They put a pound of chopped ribeye in each cheesesteak, and yet it still appeared at first – and second – sight to have so much cheese on there, that I was almost certain the meat would be overwhelmed by it. It really should have been. But somehow, it wasn’t. There was enough extra juicy and nicely seasoned meat to stand up to all of that cheese. The two ingredients were beautifully blended to form an extremely tasty and gooey mess.
And speaking of standing up, as I said the last time I wrote about Curly’s, it’s amazing that the rolls they use can hold all of that moist meat and cheese and not fall apart at some point. I am not sure which bakery provides their seeded rolls. They are a little on the soft side and not real crusty. But it was fresh, had a nice flavor, and got the job done.
The final aspect of the sandwich to hit on is the often overlooked onions. There were some bigger than average chunks in there, which I like. More importantly, they were almost to the point of being caramelized, making them a nice addition to the steak’s overall flavor package.
I actually only ate half of the steak. The rest went home with me. Curly’s offers a lighter version of its cheesesteak, which has 10 ounces of meat instead of the usual 16. That would actually be better suited to my taste. I’ve discussed my emphasis on proportionality over a more-is-better approach to steaks. But for this report, I wanted to photograph their regular-sized version and also felt I should experience it again, as that’s the sandwich that continues to put them so high up in the pantheon of cheesesteak shops. Having done so, it should be a bit easier for me to decide how Curly’s stacks up against the area’s other heavy-hitters when I put together my final top ten list in September.
* While I have no data to confirm my view that Facebook’s Cheesesteak Gurus group has become extremely influential within the Philly region’s cheesesteak-making and eating community, various observations have led me to that conclusion.
When a steak shop becomes trendy on the groups scroll, the masses that frequent it head to that shop to try it. With so many members, even if only a small fraction are doing that, it’s got to mean a lot of extra business for those shops. And shop owners are going all out to get that extra business. I don’t think it’s my imagination that a lot more places offer seeded rolls and Cooper Sharp cheese – both of which are extremely popular among Gurus – than was the case a couple years ago.
It’s also not unusual to see the owners of some of the top steak shops post on the board, whether it’s to pass along a notice that they’ll be closed for vacation the following week or just to thank or interact with their supporters – or occasionally, detractors.
One owner of a pizzeria in Bucks County put out a note on there saying that the lack of references to his cheesesteak on the group’s scroll has led him to completely revamp it. He’s using a better roll and more meat now, as well as offering Cooper Sharp.
While I intend to use what I’ve learned in the past year of increased cheesesteak eating to make one at home after I’ve finished this project, there are many other members of the Facebook group who are way ahead of me in that department. There are frequently photos posted of gorgeous homemade steaks.
One topic that’s come up a couple times recently is where to get thinly sliced or shaved ribeye for homemade cheesesteaks. The most common recommendation is to go to a butcher and request that they do it. That may still be the best option, but I made an interesting discovery while I was at Curly’s.
There is a small strip of shops in the same shopping complex that includes an H Mart. They are an Asian grocery store chain with locations in a handful of areas around the U.S., including the Philly region. I knew that thinly-sliced beef is used in Korean cuisine and may have even seen a recommendation to check Asian markets for sliced ribeye to use for making cheesesteaks at some point. So on a hunch, I decided to go in and check out their meat case.
My eyes must have lit up when I saw they had a large selection of various cuts of beef – both fresh and frozen – sliced to just the right thickness for cheesesteaks – including ribeye. Each pack contained close to a pound of meat.
Among the other cuts I spotted, was some highly marbled boneless short ribs, also sliced thin. If I wind up going there or – more likely – to another H Mart closer to where I live for meat when I get around to making a cheesesteak, I may grab packs of ribeye and short rib and try them both. I could also make one with the two cuts mixed.