From its location in the heart of South Philly, the just off-center ordering process, and of course the whole “Whiz Wit” situation, Pat’s King of Steaks has classic Philly spirit.
What I admire most about this 85-year-old business is how you can find all walks of Philadelphia standing in that great long line for cheesesteaks. From politicians to little leaguers to the post-bar crowd, it’s a rite of passage to eat Pat’s steaks.
There once was a time when I lived just a few blocks away from Pat’s. It’s a 24/7 operation, so you can imagine (when I still drank) how many late nights once ended there.
Ordering a cheesesteak is truly an experience unlike any other. You want the ordering process to be as concise as possible, so you do two things: request the type of cheese (Whiz, Prov, American), and say whether or not to add onions (Wit or Witout). My order is the “Prov Wit” with a visit to their superb pepper bar to load it up. And once you place your order and are waiting off to the side, enjoying your fountain soda, they get to work on your order in a line of tickets, rushing to get the sandwich into your hands so the magic can begin.
From my countless visits, I’ve become friends with Frank Olivieri Jr., the current and third-generation owner. I’ve had the pleasure of being friends with Frank for years now. Just in the past couple years, we took him and his wife to Israel for a taste of what you could argue is the Israeli version of cheesesteak, shawarma. He actually FaceTimed his team at Pat’s while we were eating shawarma that day in Israel. It was an incredible experience to watch the connection between such different food cultures be made — that’s what street food is all about.
Pat’s is a slice of Philly community. I wholly admire the tradition that surrounds this iconic establishment. And for all you cheesesteak newcomers, there are a few things I know for sure: Your first time ordering at Pat’s will be uncomfortable, memorable, and so rewarding. Worth it every time.
Pat’s King of Steaks: 1237 E. Passyunk Ave, Philadelphia. www.patskingofsteaks.com
Michael Solomonov is the chef and co-owner of several Philadelphia restaurants, including Zahav, Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, and Goldie.