I’ve heard that people in Philadelphia don’t eat Philly cheese steaks. Well, let me just say to all those Philadelphians – THANK YOU. I’m more than happy to eat your share over here in good old MKE. I’m pretty sure ours are better anyway. I mean, even Philadelphia Magazine rated the sandwiches at The Philly Way as the best Philly cheese steak in America. More than once. Clearly we needed to go there and try this glorious sandwich.
In the spirit of full disclosure, this was my first ever cheese steak. If that’s shocking to you, it was shocking to me too. This sandwich combines some of my favorite things: meat, bread, grilled onions, cheese whiz (don’t judge me, I’ll eat this cheesy nectar with everything)… And then to find out I could get MORE types of cheese? Heaven!
The Philly Way offers six types of cheese steaks (although two of them have chicken instead of steak – does this count?), burgers, chili dogs, and five types of fries. Here, check out the menu. Like any upstanding Wisconsinite would, I ordered the Cheese Lovers Cheese Steak. Kyle got The Works. It has extra cheese. That’s acceptable. He can stay in the state.
The restaurant (we went to the one on 2nd Street) is small, with about four tables. At lunchtime the line was practically out the door. I was reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s advice on his shows – if it has a long line, you know it’s good. We lucked out and snatched a table as someone else left right before the rush. You can see all the way back into the kitchen from the front of the restaurant. I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s important. I always wonder just how clean a kitchen is if I can’t see it. An old friend of mine from the awful cube farm I worked in during my lesser years always warned me when people brought food into the office: “I wouldn’t touch that. You don’t know what kind of nasty things these people do in their kitchen.” Looking back, I realize it assumed the worst of people, but I still pretty much consider it solid advice. Basically, what I’m trying to say is the kitchen was clean. Visibly clean. And I really appreciated that.
The cook mixes the steak and onions together and grills the mixture with intermittent banging of a spatula on the surface to chop everything up a bit. It bugged me at first, but once I smelled the robust oniony, beefy banging product, I forgot all about it. It’s like living by train tracks. You learn to tune it out. Our cheese steaks arrived pretty quickly, thank God – all we had all morning was cheese samples at Clock Shadow Creamery down the block, so we were pretty famished.
So here’s the thing about these sandwiches. Philadelphia Magazine wasn’t lying – they really are delicious. The cheese is under the steak so it gets all melty and gooey and flavorful… and now I want some cheese. Anyway. I think the cheese-on-the-bottom tactic has an extra bonus. The juice from the steak (and it is juicy, not greasy – there’s a critical difference) doesn’t permeate the cheese layer and make the bread mushy, so the sandwich holds together the entire time you’re eating. After years of eating French Dips that fall apart after a couple bites, my mind was pretty much blown. So after the cheese comes the steak and grilled onions in a deliriously juicy combination of earthiness and beef, then it’s topped off with any peppers or other toppings you may have asked for. Unless it’s extra cheese. You know where that goes. The cheese steaks are big, too. We ordered two sides of fries (Kyle got Cajun fries and I got fries with gravy – who else loves poutine?!) but had to bring them both home. I couldn’t finish my sandwich anyway.
Plan your visit:
Address: 405 South 2nd Street, Milwaukee
Parking: Street parking or a side lot