Let’s talk about Philadelphia. It’s one of the largest cities in America. It’s the birthplace of the American government. It’s the home of a bunch of rude sports fans. It’s a city that I could make fun of for a few more paragraphs, but none of that would be delicious. So let’s talk about Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches instead.
As much as I’d be happy to let Philadelphia leave Pennsylvania and join up with New York in some kind of overpriced orgy of rudeness and overconfidence, I have to admit that their sandwich is pretty good. It’s steak, sliced super thin so the flavor has nowhere to hide, covered in cheese and onions and maybe peppers. It’s not hard to realize that that’s gonna be good. So I bought a frozen one from Stouffer’s ($3.89) to fully experience the joy of the cheesesteak, and then I made my own to compare it to.
Here’s my ingredients and their ingredients:
While we’re on the subject of ingredients, I’ll let you know where I got the stuff to build my sandwich. The steak came from Wholey’s, a protein emporium in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The bread came from Mancini’s bakery, two doors down from Wholey’s. The cheese curds, which I was very excited to buy for the first time, were made by Arsenal Cheese. They’re a one-man operation in a basement of the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, a few blocks down the street from my house (how’s that for locavore cred?).
I bought my Stouffer’s sandwich in the freezer aisle.
Debate for the best cheesesteak in Philly usually centers around Pat’s or Geno’s. I now submit to you a new contender, frozen and wrapped in plastic:
After I got Stouffer’s sandwich out of the box, their directions required me to make several cuts in the perforated cardboard packaging and assemble some kind of microwave-ready sandwich stand. And because Stouffer’s wants you to get the most out of your sandwich eating experience, they offer some options for the more advanced eaters among you.
That’s right cheesesteak fans, you can personalize your toasted (microwaved) sub! I know that putting meat and cheese on bread is too complicated for us non-chefs, but Stouffer’s took care of all that for you. Now all you need to do is personalize it. That’s quite the offer, but putting lettuce on a cheesesteak is ridiculous. And personalizing a sub sounds too much like cooking to me. Frozen food is supposed to be freedom from cooking. In order to get the most authentic Philly Style Steak and Cheese Toasted Sub experience I didn’t personalize anything. It went straight into the microwave.
When I told some guy at my office that I planned to eat a frozen Philly Style Steak and Cheese Toasted Sub, his first question was “those exist?” Well they do exist, and the benefits are obvious. Who among us hasn’t eaten a sandwich and said “This is good, but I wish it came out of a microwave”? Who among us has more than two minutes forty-five seconds to prepare a sandwich? Well sandwich eaters, your dreams have come true.
Before I talk about the innards of this bad boy, let’s address the bread situation. Somehow, it wasn’t soggy. In fact, it actually had a bit of crunch to it. I can say with no sarcasm that Stouffer’s food scientists have developed a way to microwave bread and not ruin it. Good look, scientists. Okay, now we talk about the innards, which is where the story takes a turn for the worse. The cheese is abundant but not particularly interesting. The onions were completely lost in the shuffle and could have been left out without my noticing. The steak, if that’s what we’re gonna call it, probably should have been left out. I had a few bites of steak that I thought may have been mushrooms. The meat was just not meaty enough, save for the bite of gristle that snuck its way in there.
Stouffer’s is a titan of the frozen food industry, an Apollo Creed, if you will. They’re rich and famous and generally regarded as the go-to in the frozen food aisle. I’m just a workaday guy who has never sold a sandwich to nobody. Would I be able to lightly caramelize onions (lightly personalized onions, as I call them)? Would I be able to slice the steak thin enough? Would the cheese melt in such a way that might befit a cheesesteak? Well, yes. And it took like 20 minutes.
I bought each ingredient separately, cooked them how I wanted, assembled them in the quantity that I wanted, and they all came through in a sandwich that I liked. The steak had a good meaty chew to it, and the cheese curds melted to provide cheesey gooeyness in each bite. The onions, which I cooked in a bit of the leftover beef fat, were an all star. They countered the richness of the cheese with just the right crunch and almost bittersweet onion flavor that really makes a cheesesteak. This is a sandwich that I would eat again, and in fact, I ate a bunch of them.
But could I microwave it? No.