There are various hot spots around the Philadelphia region where multiple steak shops with strong followings reside within a relatively small radius. One of the hottest right now is unquestionably an area that starts in far Northeast Philly, just across the city line from Bucks County, and works its way north and west into Feasterville-Trevose and finally Southampton, where I grew up.
I’ve already written about Stoli’s, Trev’s, Beardi Bros., and Da Vinci’s, the last of which came in fourth in the cheesesteak rankings I put out last year. A place called Don Giovanni’s is still to come. And Friday, my friend Jim, who tagged along for the Trev’s visit, once again accompanied me to that area to check up on a very positive steak development.
Berardi Bros., which just opened a few months ago, uses outstanding and very crusty seeded rolls from Sarcone’s Italian Bakery of South Philadelphia. I’ve written about them a number of times. They are without a doubt my favorite of the Italian bread bakeries in the region.
And In recent weeks, the news broke among Facebook’s cheesesteak groups that both Stoli’s and Mama Russo’s, which is also in that area, have switched to those same crusty Sarcone’s rolls for their steaks.
The very soft seeded roll Stoli’s had been using until recently was the main factor in them not being a serious contender for last year’s top ten list. So I was eager to get back there and give the revised version a shot. And I had been intending to get to Mama Russo’s for a while, but my procrastination turned out to be beneficial. They’ve been getting one rave after another on Facebook since making the roll switch.
With Jim riding shot-gun, I set out to visit both places Friday for lunch.
We started at Stoli’s, which sits at the end of a small shopping center on Bustleton Avenue in the Far Northeast. It’s mostly a takeout shop with just a counter and a few stools for those wishing to eat onsite. But that’s all we needed.
I was surprised by how sizable their menu is, but we only had one item from it on our minds. We arrived just after they opened, and I wasted no time in ordering our cheesesteak.
Stoli’s changes things up a bit in comparison to most of the steak shops I’ve written about when it comes to the meat and cheese they use. Rather than the usual ribeye with Cooper Sharp, their steaks feature chopped New York Strip steak with New Yorker American. I also requested fried onions.
Jim and I enjoyed the sweet sound of the grill chef chopping that New York Strip on the flat-top during the short wait for our steak.
When it arrived and Jim picked up his half – after I had taken the requisite photos – he immediately commented on the roll’s crust and how hard it was. Not everyone likes such a crusty roll for a cheesesteak. But I certainly do.
Sarcone’s makes more than one style of seeded roll. The ones we ate Friday were different from the more chewy and less hard ones that I had recently at Wolf’s Superior Sandwiches and with a couple of the roast pork sandwiches I wrote about. But both are great.
It appears in one of the above photos that Jim’s half may have had a heavier dose of cheese than mine, but I’ve discovered over the past year and a half that photos can be very deceiving when it comes to the amount of cheese on a steak. I’ll just say that I thought the meat, cheese and roll for my half were in perfect proportion to each other. Regular readers know that I prefer the meat to be front and center when it comes to a steak’s overall flavor with the cheese in more of a texturally supporting role.
I sometimes feel obliged to point out some sort of deficiency with the cheesesteaks I post on. And I suppose there could have been just a smidgen more seasoning on this one. But that was far from a significant issue. This was an outstanding steak all-around with very good flavor. Stoli’s will unquestionably be in the running when I put together a revised top 20 list late this year.
It didn’t take long for us to polish off our steak and hit the road. We only had to go a few miles north – into Feasterville-Trevose, which was two separate towns when I was growing up – before arriving at Mama Russo’s.
It’s in an attractive little building that surprisingly sits at the end of a residential block of single family homes. The interior is also quite pleasant. Food is ordered at a counter that fronts the open kitchen and includes an impressive display of pizza that is available for slices.
I was asked what kind of roll I wanted when ordering and obviously requested a seeded one, which I knew would be from Sarcones. There was no extra charge for it.
Our steak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions was brought out to our table by one of the staff, and it was another beauty.
The roll was again super crusty. Jim thought it might not be identical to the one we had at Stoli’s. I don’t rule out the possibility that he was correct. Perhaps Sarcone’s varies their rolls by customer for their wholesale distribution to steak shops. But I suspect the two rolls were the same, with the one we had at Mama Russo’s being more well-done.
The amount of meat was right on the mark for me and also seemed to be roughly equivalent to what we had at Stoli’s, but the Mama Russo’s steak was cheesier. Whether that’s a good thing depends on how cheesy you like your steaks. I preferred the meat-to-cheese ratio at Stoli’s, but the amount of cheese at Mama Russo’s wasn’t as over-the-top as I’ve experienced at a few other places in recent months.
I also probably would give the edge in overall flavor to Stoli’s. But again, that’s because I prefer my steaks to be less cheese-heavy. A lot of steak-lovers obviously feel otherwise about that and might go with Mama Russo’s for that reason.
I still need to get to Don Giovanni’s to complete my survey of that area’s notable cheesesteaks. Hopefully it won’t take long to get that done. It’s too bad the steak scene around there wasn’t like this back in my formative years.
6 thoughts on “Positive Trend in a Cheesesteak Hot Spot”
Feasterville. Seems appropriate. ;^)
So if your only choices were a crusty, unseeded roll or a softer, seeded roll, which would you choose?
It would be interesting to see chuck used for a cheesesteak. It’s undeniably tougher than both ribeye and strip, but has great flavor and a nice amount of fat. And is also usually considerably less expensive.
Not every place uses ribeye. I think most of the better places do at this point. There are other cuts I see mentioned occasionally.
I’d go for the crusty seedless roll. It’s not the seeds themselves that are important, although they sometimes add an extra layer of flavor if they’re well-toasted. I don’t know if it’s just coincidental or what, but most of my favorite rolls – and most of the rolls you see get a lot of praise on Facebook – are seeded. And I’ve noticed significant differences between the seeded and unseeded rolls from at least a couple of the major Italian bakeries around here, with the seeded once always being much better.