Monday, June 27, 2011

Off the Map: Cheesesteaks - Proof That Everything Is Better in New Jersey

“Big Daddy” Cheesesteak – Carmen’s Deli, Bellmawr, NJ
Carmen's Deli

To those of us from the Philadelphia area, the cheesesteak is not just a subpar food one eats as a tourist in the City of Brotherly Love.  The cheesesteak is a way of life.  And everyone has his or her favorite.
And All Cheesesteaks Should Be Eaten with Onion Rings. Fact
Hailing from the South Jersey suburbs, Vodka’s ideal cheesesteak does not come from Philadelphia at all.  It comes from the delis of her youth, a solid half hour away from the Pat’s versus Geno’s rivalry.  It does not feature long slabs of shaved meat and oodles of Cheez Whiz.  The South Jersey cheesesteak, in Vodka’s mind, is refined and hearty, proving that the cheesesteak one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.
And If You Call Hoagies "Subs," Just Leave Now
Clearly sharing Vodka’s sentiment that the best cheesesteaks are found east of the Delaware River, Aaron McCargo, Jr. chose Carmen’s Deli cheesesteak on the BETWEEN BREAD episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate.  Forcing my mother to chauffeur me to Bellmawr, NJ for the sake of obsessive eating, we find a packed parking lot outside of Carmen’s.  Being that it is neither lunch nor dinner time, this inexplicable crowd seems to prove that Aaron McCargo, Jr. knows his stuff.
I Hear Bellmawr is Lovely This Time of Year....
I enter Carmen’s Deli and head to the hoagie and grill line to pick my number.  As I wait, I am filled with schadenfreude at the dope who arrives at the pick-up counter to retrieve the order he had placed over the phone… at what is revealed to be the “Carmen’s Deli” in BALTIMORE.   Talk about not knowing your area codes.

Because all of the workers at Carmen’s Deli are kinder souls than me, they do not laugh in the face of this moron, and they simply make a replica of the order that is probably still waiting for him in Maryland.  And in fact, the workers’ patience and niceties are what saves Carmen's from what is otherwise an inefficient sandwich ordering system (whoever takes your order at the counter makes your food, which leaves long gaps of wait time).
And I'm Not Very Patient When Waiting for This
Once I retrieve our “Big Daddy” cheesesteaks (made with fried onions and hot peppers, neither of which are really my thing, but I won’t diverge from Best Thing I Ever Ate choices), my mother and I cart our sandwiches home to feast upon.  Impressively, when we unwrap them twenty minutes later, they are still piping hot (verging on scalding).
Well Insulated Sandwich
The rolls (which my parents find too flimsy but I love) are bulging with more meat than I have ever seen smashed into a cheesesteak.  Melted provolone cheese coats all of the thinly sliced steak (pleasantly integrated with the meat itself and not just hanging off of the roll).  There are also a proliferation of fried onions and hot peppers which, one by one, we each decide to pick off.
Cheesesteak Pictures Also Don't Win Awards
Diving in, the cheesesteak is practically perfect, and to my South Jersey tastebuds, far superior to the runny contraptions found in South Philly.  The peppers, however, distort many of my early bites, and the sandwich is much better once they are removed.  While I wouldn’t venture to Bellmawr again just for this sandwich, as I can find many akin to it in my parents’ backyard, I would urge anyone from Philadelphia proper to come to South Jersey and have the cheesesteak you've been missing all these years.
New Jersey's Finest
Note from Ginger: Please direct all Philadelphia versus South Jersey cheesesteak related hate-mail to Vodka directly as I do not wish to be implicated in your wrath.  Thank you.

Carmen’s Deli “Big Daddy” Cheesesteak: 4 stars

1 comment:

  1. A great post! and a really nice blog! I will be reading regularly.

    I write posts for my local town (and surrounding towns). One of our South Jersey paper's chose Carmen's Cheesesteaks as a finalists in its best cheesesteak category.

    In my post, I reference your blog post here.

    I also "borrowed" one of your cheesesteak images. I give you full credit. I couldnt find contact info here, so... if you have a problem with my use of your image, please let me know and I'll remove. The site I blog for, while very local in scope gets a decent amount of traffic and you should see some hits here.

    My post:

    Thanks, and keep up the great work!