It was only last month that I referred to an area in Philadelphia’s northern suburbs that runs through Southampton, Feasterville-Trevose, and a sliver of far Northeast Philly as a cheesesteak hot spot. There are a half-dozen steak shops within about 15 minutes of each other that all receive raves – albeit with varying degrees of frequency – from the passionate multitudes that populate Facebook’s cheesesteak groups.
Berardi Bros. and Mama Russo’s are the two from that grouping that have been trending lately in terms of positive attention. The former is new to the area, while the latter recently revamped their steaks, in part with a roll upgrade. Stoli’s also made the wise move of switching rolls – the old ones were too soft. Both they and Trev’s get a decent amount of attention on social media as well.
But my friend Robert and I visited the pair of places from the group-of-six that get the least attention online. After trying my first steak at Don Giovanni’s and the fourth or fifth I’ve had at Da Vinci’s, I’m left wondering why that is the case. To me, they are arguably the two best of the lot – although post-upgrade Stoli’s may also be in the mix when I put out my revised best-of list in the fall.
Both places are in Feasterville-Trevose. We started at Don Giovanni’s.
They have a multi-faceted operation, with a complete pizzeria and sandwich shop menu, as well as a full-service bakery. If we weren’t headed straight to our second steak shop right after leaving Don Giovanni’s, I’d have tried a slice or two of their pizza.
In addition to an array of pastries and pizza, they bake their own sandwich rolls. I requested our cheesesteak with Cooper Sharp cheese and fried onions on a seeded one. There is no seating inside or out at Don Giovanni’s, so we ate it outside next to where I parked – but not until after I took it into the car for a couple minutes to snap the requisite photos without any interference from the Sun.
The first thing that likely jumps out at you when looking at these photos is the onions. They weren’t as well fried as is typically the case for the steaks I report on. But while that kept them from adding much to the sandwich in the way of flavor, they were at least soft enough for it to not be a textural issue.
Every other aspect of this cheesesteak was stellar.
The roll was soft but had an extremely fresh quality that worked very well for me. And what was on the roll was moist, flavorful and well-balanced. The cheese was nicely melted throughout, as well as being proportionate to the meat, while the steak’s overall flavor was outstanding.
This was a fairly unique steak, in part because the roll had a slightly unusual texture. I’m not sure how to characterize it other than to say it was soft, fresh and chewy. It didn’t remind me of any other steak roll I’ve had since starting this blog. And the meat was well-seasoned, but tasted a little different from what I’m used to. I may have detected a hint of garlic, but I’m not certain about that.
I’ll definitely be having another steak from there at some point and hope to sample their pizza next time as well.
It was a short drive from Don Giovanni’s over to Da Vinci’s, which came in fourth on my top ten cheesesteaks list last year.
They also have a bakery attached to their pizza and sandwich shop. I’ve raved about their house-baked seeded steak rolls probably each time I’ve had one. They are firmer and crustier than those at Don Giovanni’s, which is how I typically prefer them.
Both places use a similar amount of meat as well. The owner of Da Vinci’s told me he puts ten ounces of chopped ribeye into his steaks. The Cooper Sharp cheese is always perfectly proportioned and blended in beautifully with the beef. And it seems like the grill chef uses the ideal amount of seasoning every time. He also did a great job of caramelizing the onions and mixing them in with the meat and cheese.
As was the case the previous three or four times I had a cheesesteak at Da Vinci’s, I couldn’t have been much more impressed with this one. I don’t know what their secret is. Somehow, they manage to consistently put out steaks that are tastier and juicier than almost all of the others I have eaten. There hasn’t been one I’ve had there that was even slightly disappointing in any respect.
Tuesday was one of my more successful cheesesteak outings. And it demonstrated a point regarding the size of cheesesteaks.
Due in large part to the influence of social media, a bigger-is-better approach to making steaks has taken hold in the Philly region. I can already see a few people asking, “Where’s the beef,” or “Where’s the cheese” when I post my review and photos from this outing on Facebook.
My answer to those questions is that the meat was there in just about the ideal amount for the rolls on which it came. And I felt the cheese in every bite. It supported the meat texturally and added a touch of flavor. That is the proper role for cheese on a steak. It should not overshadow the meat.
The popularity of steak shops that use a pound of ribeye and enough Cooper Sharp cheese to constipate a small village is not a positive trend in my opinion. As I’ve said many times, I care much more about proportion and taste than how much a sandwich weighs. And few places do a better job of demonstrating that it doesn’t take a massive amount of meat and cheese to make a great steak than Da Vinci’s and Don Giovanni’s.
I feel the need to add a note to the guy at Da Vinci’s who was more optimistic than I was about the Sixers’ chances in Boston last night: You were right.
One of the routes I use when going out for walks near my home takes me by a local train station. There is a small pond next to it that seems to attract a family of geese every year around this time.
I spotted this year’s guests for the first time yesterday.
4 thoughts on “A Pair of Steak Shops That Do More With Less”
The first bun looked too light and airy to hold a cheesesteak!
It felt light too. But there were no difficulties in terms of it falling apart. It really was different from all of the other steak rolls I’ve had.
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I wonder if a lot of the believers in “bigger is better” are younger people with less exposure to the more traditional steaks.
There could be something to that. Although it’s certainly not a hard rule. There are older posters who also like the places with huge steaks.