In early 2022, Delaware County native Jim Pappas picked up a cheesesteak at a Wawa and went to enjoy it at Levante Brewing Company in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Pappas, 58, was a bit disappointed in the roll and found the cheese component of the sandwich to be non-existent, but he thought the steak was pretty good for being pre-cooked and also enjoyed the flavor of some added-on onions. Overall, he gave the cheesesteak a 75 out of 100 on the spreadsheet he keeps to track all of the sandwiches he’s eaten since he embarked on the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure in 2018.
That journey officially ended days later on January 13th at the West End Boat Club in Essington when Pappas ate the thousandth different cheesesteak he’s consumed from restaurants, bars and other places that serve Philly’s signature sandwich across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware over the last four years.
Pappas, who came up with the idea of eating, rating and documenting his quest to try 1,000 cheesesteaks on YouTube and social media while drinking Fireball and Diet Coke out of a Wawa cup, wasn’t overly impressed with the sandwich that ended his journey so he didn’t wait long to have cheesesteak 1,001 days later at Stuff’D Steaks outside of Hershey.
“It was a really good one,” Pappas tells InsideHook. “Good guy. Good family. Looking at it, I was a little worried about a couple of things, but it all came together nicely. It was a food truck for the last few years, and they just opened a brick-and-mortar storefront. They’re connected to a liquor store so you can sit, relax, get an adult beverage, watch the game on TV and have a good cheesesteak. I’m thinking they’re going to get a 92.”
The five categories Pappas uses to get a final grade on his cheesesteaks, which he typically orders with American cheese, fried onions, mushrooms, lettuce and tomato, are roll, meat, cheese, extras and overall experience and the highest grade he has handed out was the 96 that went to a cheesesteak at Charlie’s Roast Pork on South 3rd Street in South Philly he called “maybe the best thing you can do with clothes on.”
A fan of finely chopped beef and American cheese melted together seamlessly, Pappas is less enthusiastic about the cuts of flat steak and Cheese Whiz that you’ll find at some of the well-known one-named cheesesteak joints.
“It’s not good meat, It’s not good Whiz. It’s something I don’t like,” he says. “I call it the Flat Steak Society. It’s definitely a balancing act and I’m coming around a little bit. No one’s trying to make a bad cheesesteak. My top worst cheesesteaks were all because of the grill person. They weren’t paying attention or they put too much oil on it or they were having a bad day. Who knows? Having had so many, I definitely can taste differences in the different parts of the cheesesteak. You want the bread to collapse around the meat. You want the meat to be juicy. You want it to be tender and flavorful. I think we get used to the pizza shop cheesesteak and forget what good meat tastes like. A good grill person can do great things with whatever meat they have though.”
In the rare instance Pappas gets a cheesesteak that really isn’t up to snuff, he’s willing to let the proprietor know, but doesn’t particularly enjoy it.
“I had a 25-year career in sales so I feel pretty comfortable talking to people, but I hate saying I didn’t like it,” he says. “Anybody that owns a restaurant or works in a restaurant isn’t there for the money. They’re there because they love pleasing people. I feel like I’m breaking their heart or kicking their puppy when I say I don’t like whatever they just slaved over a hot stove to make for me. Luckily, most people don’t recognize me or don’t want to talk to me.”
But during the quest that has taken Pappas as far west as Harrisburg and even led to him heading to Staten Island for a cheesesteak after getting stuck at JFK one night, he’s learned he prefers talking and having fun with others during meals instead of staying isolated in his own world.
“We all live in our own little bubbles and we need to get out of them and do different stuff, that’s the big thing. People are just carrying around so much crap and no one else cares,” he says. There were so many times I just wanted to go home and get back on my couch to watch SportsCenter and not be bothered with anybody. But because I was on this silly adventure, I had to stop and get a cheesesteak at places that I would never ever in a million years even considered stopping into. I usually ended up having a great time. It shouldn’t be, but it really is surprising how food brings people together.”
It also shouldn’t be a surprise that within the Philadelphia area, that food is usually a cheesesteak.
“When I asked someone about their favorite cheesesteak, I heard about their dad’s favorite place or where they went after the big game or where they went after a night out with friends or that the owner sponsored their little league team,” Pappas says. “It was all that stuff. I never heard about the cheese. I never heard about the roll. Philadelphians are passionate about cheesesteak because they’re imprinted with happy memories.”
To make some happy memories of your own, head to one of the 10 following cheesesteak joints that Pappas ranked at 92 or above on his Cheesesteak Blog.
- Anna & Mike’s Pizza – 92, 9781 S Dupont Hwy, Felton, DE.
- Zach’s Place – 92, 739 Ferry Cut Off St, New Castle, DE.
- Side Bar & Restaurant – 93, 10 E Gay St, West Chester, PA.
- Cockadoodle Dan’s – 93, 9 E Broad St, Palmyra, NJ.
- Sam’s Brick Oven Pizza – 93, 2626 E County Line Rd, Ardmore, PA.
- Big Al’s Eatery – 93, 110 S Edgemont St, Media, PA.
- Bridgeport Rib House – 93, 1049 Ford St, Bridgeport, PA.
- Mama’s Meatballs & Pizzeria – 94, 2673 Haddonfield Rd, Pennsauken, NJ.
- Da Vinci’s Brick Oven Pizzeria – 94, 183 Bustleton Pike B, Featerville-Trevose, PA.
- Dagwood’s Pub (Prime Rib Cheesesteak) – 95, 4625 Linden Ave, Philadelphia, PA.
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