Bleateries: The Cheese Steak Shop Manila
You Are What eWe Eat

I’m convinced, at this point, that sharing my face publicly is a guarantee that something pleasantly weird will occur. The Cheese Steak Shop Manila sponsored a Facebook contest late last year, which I joined by sharing a photo of myself in Philadelphia. The photo came from this earlier post about – well – Philly cheesesteak. I took it that CSS Manila liked that post (it was last year’s most read one, anyhow) because soon after that, they invited me to their new Fort Strip branch for a sampling.

As someone with weak fortitude, I didn’t even have to think twice.

It was then when I realized the complications: I cannot take food porn pics. My attempts at food porn were so bad that I had to retire those after half a year. The good folks at CSS Manila, however, told me not to worry. Food porn wasn’t a concern. In fact, they even said that cheesesteak sandwiches, though in different varieties, all sort of looked alike in pictures, anyway. Wait – that kind of addresses my problem, doesn’t it? Photos that look similar but get viewed repeatedly all the same? With plenty of close-ups? That… sounds… familiar. Maybe food porn won’t be so difficult, then? Besides, we know that pictures AREN’T important…


We only read these for the articles. [apologies to Playboy]

I also realized that I wasn’t qualified to write about food. Because I don’t have a degree in mathematics or literature, I didn’t know anything about combinatorics and semantic juxtaposition. Please allow me to explain through example: RAP + METAL = ??? Tricky, isn’t it? Rap metal? What is it? Is it rap? Is it metal? Why, it’s both, but somehow more than those two put together. How could this be?


Clearly, this is the culmination of 20th Century Music. [thanks, LimpBizkit]

Another example: BAT + MAN = ??? Easy peasy! As far as verbal arithmetic is concerned, after all, there is no character more iconic than Man-Bat.


Not even Man-Spider. [thanks, BTAS / SM94 ]

So what about CHEESE + STEAK? That, of course, is a formula for awesome. Cheesesteak was first conceived in the 1930s in Philadelphia by the brothers Olivieri, and the rest, as they say, was history.


Tasty, tasty history.

It is, luckily, a history that we can partake of here in the Philippines via The Cheese Steak Shop and its two branches. CSS Manila serves Philly cheesesteak by way of San Francisco, where the franchise was established in 1982. Despite the considerable detour, I’m happy to note that their cheese steak is comparable to the ones I tried in Philadelphia. Needless to say, I’m a fan (in case the months-old comment on my old Philly post wasn’t enough of a clue). I’ve been to CSS Manila’s old Arnaiz branch numerous times (even before my Philly trip), and have been frequenting the Amorsolo one since they moved there. That branch and the one at Fort Strip are the only two Cheese Steak Shops outside of the US – something I’m definitely pleased about. Because where else could I satisfy my obscene cravings for them wonderful cheese-slathered red meat sandwiches?

Oh, these obscene cravings are worrying, but how can you blame me? Have you experienced these sandwiches? I basically waive my legal rights with every cheese steak I stuff my face with – this despite the warnings that The Cheese Steak Shop points out in big friendly letters: ‘Caution: May Be Habit Forming’. You know what else is habit forming? A lot of things, really… most of which we cannot print here. Like drugs. We do not endorse drugs. Drugs are bad and illegal. Because drugs are bad (and illegal), I’ll just present some magazine scans of a questionable sort to help clarify my cheesesteak dependency.

Welcome to this special edition, our first ever Sandwich Review

 


Classic Cheese Steak
Click images to enlarge.

We have, first of all, our Classic Cheese Steak. This is cheesesteak 101. You take the most straightforward of ingredients, being thinly sliced steak and cheese, grill them, and then scoop everything into a soft roll. You may also add grilled onions and pickled peppers to your preferences, but a cheesesteak is basically steak, cheese, and bread. For such a simple formula, the result is just about perfection – something for purists like me to rave about.

For over two years of visiting CSS, I always ordered a Classic with a side of Garlic Fries, no fail. So, despite being a regular, I only really knew one item off their menu. I shouldn’t even be qualified to do a feature on CSS Manila, but please don’t tell them that. I did try their King of Philly once, though, and enjoyed it, being an extra-loaded version of the Classic. Of course, this is just like saying that I once watched the special editions of ‘Lord of the Rings’ after watching the original cuts more than twenty times. I loved those extended versions, but that’s to be expected – it was the same thing but with more awesome.


I lied. I also watched this over twenty times. [thanks, LOTR]

Although the Classic arguably needs no further embellishments, you may still tweak the basic ingredients to your liking. After the optional onions and peppers, you also get to choose on the cheese. The CSS, true to the Philly tradition, offers American, Provolone, and Cheez Whiz. I personally prefer the milder Provolone, although I sometimes switch it up with the other two choices just because. Should it not be enough, extra cheese is also an option.

Following that, you may also decide between steak or chicken for the meat (extra meat also welcome). Of course, steak is the runaway favorite. I did try the chicken once, however, and was pleasantly surprised at how flavorful it was – it almost tasted like it had four legs! How could it not taste like chicken when everything else in the world does? What was this fowl witchcraft?


It tasted something like this beefy thing. Click images to enlarge.

Lastly, the bread… which may be prepared to certain specifications. Some prefer it sliced, while others, toasted. Some others, still, like their rolls hollowed out, leaving only the crust as the sole conveyance for the wonderful steaky filling. Regardless of the preparation, though, you should note that CSS Manila exclusively uses authentic Amoroso Italian rolls – the only acceptable bread for any Philadelphian serious about cheesesteak. Amoroso rolls are pillow-soft, with just the right crunch for its crust, allowing it to warmly envelop the gloriously gloopy center.

Despite (or because of) its minimal ingredients, the Classic Cheese Steak is a perennial winner. It is definitive, for sure, such that one would be hard pressed to improve on the formula. Not to say that one shouldn’t try, of course…

 


Western Cheese Steak
Click images to enlarge.

OK, let’s stop being snobs for a moment and forget our puristic tendencies… There may come a time when, stuffing your face with cheesesteak, you realize that on the gratification scale of 1-10, your cheesesteak is already a 10 – where can you go from there? You go to 11, of course. Duh.

For that extra push over the cliff, The Cheese Steak Shop offers additional toppings. At extra cost, you may avail of roasted garlic, tomatoes, spinach, lettuce, mushrooms, pepperoni, bacon, pizza sauce, BBQ sauce, mayonnaise – what have you. Certainly, no one can stop you from putting all of these extras onto your cheesesteak, but remember that these are but accoutrements to an already awesome sandwich.

Related to this, The CSS offers combinations of these add-ons through their Premium Cheese Steak menu. Standouts include the Deluxe (pizza sauce & mushroom), Pepperoni & Pizza Sauce, Spinach & Mushroom, and the Hoagie (lettuce, tomato & mayo). The jewel in their crown, however, is the Western Cheese Steak – a monster of a sandwich that’s mercilessly topped with BBQ sauce, onion rings, and BACON. Steak and cheese and bacon? Why hasn’t a love song been made about this yet? This is what it means to be an apex predator! It’s so wrong and yet… so… right. Just like a childhood crush on a teacher who likes to quote Nabokov.


Don’t stand so close to me. Click images to enlarge.

I wondered whether bacon in my cheesesteak would be like bikini in my carwash – do I really need such an ‘improvement’? Sorry, please don’t answer that. Wiser men have attempted…


Like most existential dilemmas, it would only beget more questions. [thanks, Wikimedia]

One need only try, and so, together with the girl-beard, I sampled a Western Cheese Steak. It was good, of course, I just couldn’t say whether it was better than a Classic (blasphemy!). It was certainly different – worth the exploration, if only for that. If this were blasphemy, then it tasted quite robust. I thought the tangy BBQ sauce held everything together. Blasphemy should always be this flavorful. The girl-beard also thought it was the tops. She enjoyed the Western so much that doctrine required her to receive immediate Confession. If her dad saw her, he would have forced the sandwich to marry her.

Polishing off my half of the Western, I resolved to someday try the other Premium Cheese Steaks as well. The Deluxe seemed promising, to be sure. The Spinach & Mushroom also interested me, especially after I ingested that wonderfully deadly sandwich. Thanks to it, I probably could no longer donate blood unless it was through a jumbo milk tea straw. I was tempted then to go to Fitness First next door for an hour on the treadmill. Luckily for me, however, the friendly folks of The CSS introduced me to the next lovely sandwich…

 


Original Vegetarian
Click images to enlarge.

If you, like myself, secretly enjoy tormenting your vegetarian friends by pigging out with maximum vulgarity in front of them, then you should think twice about bringing them to The Cheese Steak Shop. I’m afraid that you cannot work your friends into a frothing state of envy there because your ‘civilized’ friends can simply avail of the Original Vegetarian sandwich or its spicier cousin, the Zesty Veggie sandwich. These two, by the way, are the only vegetarian items on the menu that are not salads or sides – it is The Cheese Steak Shop, after all. Say what you want, but CSS grants vegetarians the equal right to pig out…


How do vegetarians ‘pig’ out, anyway? Click images to enlarge.

The Original Vegetarian has spinach, mushroom, tomato, and lettuce. This is layered with cheese (of your choice), stuffed in an Amoroso roll, topped with optional onions and peppers, and slathered with mayonnaise and mustard. It’s pretty impressive. For the record, I sometimes do go for vegetarian, but I often feel a sparseness about the food for some reason.

With that said, the Original Vegetarian was a welcome discovery. As a hopeless carnivore, the best compliment that I could think of was that it felt amazingly substantial. The combined veggies surprisingly felt generous in the mouth. Each bite was hefty, no doubt helped by the bread and the gooey cheese. I could have been eating meat for all I cared, although I have to admit that I felt extra satisfaction knowing that I wasn’t. Wow, going vegetarian does make one feel civilized! Confession: I only make fun of my vegetarian friends because I know they’ll outlive me. I’m a sad case. Tsk.

I am suddenly reminded of some people I know who proudly proclaim that they do not eat anything remotely vegetable. Some of them have the physiques to show for it, too. I like to imagine them with their phones in their back pockets, butt-dialing each other by simply breathing and somehow having complete conversations. I don’t think they’ll sing praises for the Original Vegetarian during their butt exchanges, no sir. Those heathens will likely enjoy cheesesteak (who wouldn’t?). I think they will also love this next sandwich…

 


Italian Hoagie
Click images to enlarge.

Philadelphia has quite the excellent sandwich tradition. The Philly Cheesesteak is the city’s most famous one, obviously, but among its peers are the similarly awesome Philly Roast Pork Sandwich, and the Hoagie. You’d think that the Philly Cheesesteak would be the ‘Official Sandwich of Philadelphia’, but it’s actually the Hoagie that has that distinction. Like the Cheesesteak, the Hoagie also has Italian-American origins, except its creation isn’t as well documented. We know, however, that its popularity grew towards the 1960s.

A Hoagie traditionally contains a selection of deli meat and cheese. It is also customarily served cold. True to this, The Cheese Steak Shop offers its Italian Hoagie, its “banquet on a bun” (which may be ordered hot). This sandwich has all the classic ingredients one may expect from an authentic Hoagie – deli meat (mortadella, salami, Lyoner, ham), your choice of cheese, followed by lettuce, tomato, and onions. All of this gets bundled up in an Amoroso roll, of course, and then drizzled with the dressing of your preference (oil & oregano recommended).


This banquet on a bun is a bacchanalia in the belly. Click images to enlarge.

Cradling half of my Italian Hoagie, which I ordered cold, I found myself strategizing on an attack. It’s almost too beautiful to shove down my throat, I thought. It also had a considerable cross-section that wouldn’t easily squeeze into my professional maw. I took the sophisticated approach: a nip here, a nibble there, followed by a complete mouthful. This allowed me to appreciate the many (literal) layers of the sandwich, relishing the elegant interplay of the crisp veggies, the smooth cheese, the firm meat slices, and the soft bun. It somewhat felt like biting into a cartoon drumstick, knowing that I would be leaving distinct bite marks on the sandwich. On top of everything, the Italian Hoagie left a satisfyingly clean finish.

The Italian Hoagie, I realize, may be considered acceptable dietary cheating for my butt-texting barbarian friends… it’s loaded with meat, but with enough helpings of vegetable to qualify it ‘vegetarian’ under their standards. Just a little caveat, though… I believe the Italian Hoagie is the priciest entry on the CSS menu. Mind you, I think it is worth every centavo – it doesn’t scrimp at all. For myself, it’s a rather welcome revelation (like the Original Vegetarian before it), and I’m glad I got acquainted with it.

I’ve been thinking about the Italian Hoagie so much lately that I’ve started dreaming about it almost every night. In fact, I’ve been dreaming about it more often now compared to my regular dream of finding myself naked in public. And when I do dream those embarrassing episodes of public nudity, I still find that I’m eating a hoagie in it anyway. What the hell, yo? I’m afraid that, at this point, my sleeping habits may only be improved by the deployment of a body pillow in the exact shape and composition of that sandwich. Mmm. Or maybe a cheesesteak? Please don’t get me started on cheesesteak! Pillows will not suffice for those cheesesteak dreams of mine, oh no. In my dreams, I also keep seeing the side-profile of an ovine figure who answers to ‘Ewe Efner’ – I avoid acknowledging him, as it might get this blog sued for infringement. I realize that I’ll never sleep normally again. I’m doomed and it’s all because of sandwiches – except somehow, I’ve always known… that first bite should have tipped me off.

Caution, gentle reader: these things are indeed habit-forming.

 


Thanks to The Cheese Steak Shop Manila for stuffing our faces silly. In the tradition of every pointless food post, here be some more pointless photos of our guilty parties:


Girl-beard Joanne and her common-law spouse.


CSS Manila’s Mai Uy, before regretting her decision to invite that dude on the right.


Please visit The Cheese Steak Shop at its two Metro Manila branches:
AMORSOLO: 140 Amorsolo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.
THE FORT: The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.

You may also visit their Facebook page for updates.
And since you’ve made it this far, please check back with us soon for the tie-in giveaway. Thanks!

*Verb.Anything.ph is not affiliated with The Cheese Steak Shop Manila nor with Playboy, however much it loves both.

Categories: [food], [metro]

[1] Comment

1 Comment »

  • someone who just got hungry says:
    January 31, 2013 A.D. at 4:40 PM

    This post just made me hungry.. nice choice of words. I found that cow with the comment Awkward funny! :)

    [Reply]

 

Leave a Reply