FEATURE ‌ Cheesesteaks: Three Contenders, Four Components 

A former Philadelphian breaks down the local cheesesteak scene to its essence

Having matured in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, I know a Philly cheesesteak when I taste one. And I've sampled the wares at the top contenders in the area many times. I take a trip to Philly's in Summerville about once a month to get a taste of their worthy cheesesteaks. Since DB's Cheesesteaks opened on James Island, I've become a regular there, grabbing a brown sack of steaks about every week or so. And when I worked downtown, I regularly ate at A.C.'s for a pretty authentic cheesesteak. While each of these shops serves a quality sandwich, the best cheesesteak in the Lowcountry can't be found at one location. You'll have to go to Summerville to get the meat, head to James Island for the onions, flip a coin for cheese on the peninsula or back in Summerville, and make sure you end up on James Island for the roll.

The Meat:

From the open kitchen at DB's Cheesesteaks you hear the sound of the spatula blade clanging on the flattop grill as the cook chops the thinly-sliced ribeye into very small, very tasty morsels. Some say the meat needs an extra splash of oil during the grilling process because it's too dry. And, believe it or not, some say there's too much meat. /p>

At A.C.'s you can watch the kitchen by standing at the order counter if you wish. With minimal effort the thinly-sliced meat is gently pulled apart and grilled on the flattop. No complaints or criticisms necessary.
You can't see or hear the kitchen at Philly's. Whatever they're doing back there it results in the thinly sliced sirloin being pulled apart, not chopped, and comes out properly grilled. It is moist and plentiful and tastes great.

The Onions:

At DB's, fresh-cut onions are chopped and grilled ever so slightly in a puddle of oil and then combined with the meat. These luscious pearls are so good I know someone who asks for an extra portion on her steak./p>

At A.C.'s, the onions are mostly reheated after being previously grilled in oil.
Philly's cuts their onions rather than chopping them and then grills them longer than they need. The flavor also lacks the smack of the yellow bulb. The suspicion is Vidalias are being used here. Quite tasty nonetheless.


At DB's, you choose between white American or Provolone. I think the standard recipe should call for a bit more. When the ingredients are flopped into the roll, the cheese ends up on the bottom.

White American and maybe provolone get nicely integrated with the meat at AC's for a gooey combination.

At Philly's, melted white American cheese gets blended perfectly among the meat and onions. The ratio of the three ingredients is right on. There may be a choice of provolone, but it's not obvious on the overhead menu.



At DB's, the roll is where it all comes together. Here we find the "Philly Roll," from Amoroso's bakery in Philadelphia with its slightly crispy crust and minimal doughy innards. After warming face down on the grill, the delectable Amoroso roll is hard pressed to contain the pile of meat, onions, and cheese. Without this roll it would be just another worthy cheesesteak variable.

AC's roll is good enough; just not enough crispness to the crust. A creditable contender overall.

The roll at Philly's is baked locally to their specifications. Light enough but spongy and doughy. It helps if you pull some of the innards out before eating.

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