Sandwich Party: The Philly Taco
Ever since I first discovered the Philly Taco – a cheesesteak wrapped in pizza – in an article about “The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book,” I knew I had to have one. I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge, especially those of the gastronomical variety, and the idea of combining two of street food’s greatest hits had me positively giddy with excitement. I was pumped, amped, jacked and stoked. For weeks, I dreamed of them, and I knew I had to make it happen.
But there was one problem. Philly Tacos (obviously) live in Philadelphia. I do not.
Back in high school, we used to do something called the Philly Challenge – skip school, race up to Philadelphia for cheesesteaks and make it back just before the end of the school day – but I’m just far enough away from my ancestral home that a day trip to Philly would be all but impossible. Besides, this brief writeup on the dish explains the necessity of first drinking lots of beer, and I wasn’t willing to risk driving under the influence of both mind-altering substances and alcohol (Ha! See what I did there?).
Fortunately, I love cooking food almost as much as I do eating it. Once this recipe taught me that I could skip the time-consuming steak-slicing process by using deli-sliced roast beef instead, I was determined to have it.
I didn’t have a giant griddle like they use on South Street, so I had to improvise. I set an old cookie sheet on top of our stove across two burners, one set to medium-high and the other to low, to simulate a griddle with hot and cool areas. It was a workable solution, sort of, although I had to hold onto it with an oven mitt when mixing things up, and the old pan (we literally found it in the house when we moved in) warping from the heat occasionally splashed some hot oil around. Then I set to work, sauteeing onions, peppers and mushrooms (you gotta have mushrooms) in a little olive oil. Once they were good and caramelized, I shook on a fair amount of salt, pepper and minced garlic and mixed the whole hot mess up again. As the fillings simmered and flavors mixed, I mentally prepared myself with some Newcastle Brown Ale.
Once everything was deliciously mixed together, the onion-pepper-mushroom mix was moved to the cooler side of the “griddle” and the meat was added. Because I had to use one hand to hold onto the pan, I couldn’t chop the meat with two spatulas as is traditional, so I just shredded it with my hands a bit as I put it on the pan and hoped for the best. I quickly realized that I would be running out of space on this cooking sheet fast, and had to move some of the peppers and meat to a skillet on another burner. As the meat cooked, one of the gang went out for pizza – it can’t all be DIY, and besides, Christian’s Pizza is just a couple blocks away and can make a pizza way better than I ever could.
After everything was nice and toasty warm, assembling the sandwiches was simple. I organized the filling into roughly hoagie-sized piles and topped them with slices of provolone. While the cheese melted, I scooped out some of the inside of the hoagie rolls to make room for their voluminous contents and dropped them on top of the piles to toast as we awaited the arrival of our pizza.
Then, the moment came. The pizza arrived, a slice was put on each plate, and an extra-wide spatula was used to flip a sandwich onto each slice.
Gazing upon this sandwich is like – actually, let’s not ruin this with words. Just look at this. A good, long gaze. I’ll wait.
If thinking about that sandwich made you hungry, I’ll bet you feel full already, just looking at that. It’s a monster. It doesn’t belong in this world. But I’m glad it does.
It’s greasy and cheesy and oozing meat juices. You don’t even know how to start eating one, or even if you should. Looking at this thing, sitting on your plate in front of you, with beer coursing through your veins, is like staring death in the face. Eating one is like giving death a high-five. It’s BASE jumping in food form.
I ate two.
I’m not even sure how it happened. The first one was done, and I knew I should have felt full to bursting. But all I felt was satisfaction, and I wanted to chase that feeling, so I adopted another partygoer’s unwanted, unfinished portion. Maybe it was my maternal instincts kicking in for my new food baby.
What does it taste like? Well, you already know what a cheesesteak is like (and if you don’t I don’t want anything to do with you), and you know what pizza is like, so the Philly Taco shouldn’t be hard to imagine. It’s good. Real good. And it makes a great drunk food: so full of flavor that even your deadened taste buds will appreciate it, and you won’t care that it’s dripping greasy mushrooms all over your best club-going attire. Impress that woman you’re with by finishing the whole thing and she’ll fly into your arms. Or stumble there, depending on how drunk you both are.
Ideas for future research: well, I’m not really sure I need to do any after this. It feels like I’ve reached the inevitable end of the sandwich experience, like I’ve found Sandwich Omega, the last sandwich that will ever be. But you never know: a hundred years ago, we thought we had done all the science that was possible, and here we are with even weirder stuff. The first thing that comes to mind would be using a pizza with more specialty toppings than plain cheese. It might be pushing the envelope, but come on, you’re already putting a whole sandwich on the slice. At this point, you’re so far beyond any standard of decency, you might as well go all out.
Once again, my good friend Connie took these pictures. Thanks!