Who makes the best cheesesteak? Here goes the debate.
As my colleague Ellen Gray pointed out the other day, the ABC sitcom The Goldbergs insists that the best cheesesteak is served in New Jersey.
More specifically, it’s at Donkey’s Place, a timeworn bar on Haddon Avenue in Camden.
Wednesday’s episode (8 p.m.) — an homage to Haddon Township-bred Hollywood mogul Steven Spielberg and titled “Crusade for the Hoagie Grail” — features a storyline involving Adam Goldberg’s brother Barry, who says he had the best cheesesteak ever in New Jersey on the way to a Flyers road game against the Devils.
If Barry can prove that Donkey’s Place indeed makes the best cheesesteak, Murray agrees to never again call his son a moron. The word moron is mentioned 26 times in this episode, a record both for The Goldbergs and, apparently, on network TV.
In an Indiana Jones-inspired setup, Barry suits up in a Flyers leather jacket, his orange Flyers T-shirt, and a Flyers satchel and gets behind the wheel of his station wagon with his father in search of Donkey’s. It’s closed but they manage to convince the owner to open.
The plot came directly from the writer’s room. “One day, a writer dared to tell us that Donkey’s in Camden had the best of them all, and I replied, ‘Please! That’s not even on cheesesteak row!'” said creator Adam F. Goldberg. “The writers thought it was something my father would say and the idea for the episode was born.”
Goldberg said his real-life family preferred Jim’s, though Barry preferred Pat’s.
“When a writer claimed that New Jersey had the best cheesesteak, it was a very bold statement, and naturally this endless debate had to become an episode because at its heart this is a show about what it means to be a Philadelphian,” Goldberg said in a statement. “I mean, Donkey’s uses a [round] poppy seed [kaiser] roll! Can you even call it a cheesesteak when it’s on a roll? Don’t get me started.”
Donkey’s Place owner Rob Lucas, who had no idea until recently that his family bar would receive national attention, says he will host a viewing party during the showtime Wednesday. He’s named two drinks in honor of the show: The Big Tasty combines creme de cocoa, cherry vodka, and Coke, while the JTP (aka Jenkintown Posse) has orange juice, Tanqueray gin, and peach schnapps.
Lucas said he would also stay open till 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, an hour later than usual.
Donkey’s Place, incidentally, cracked the code several years ago when globe-trotting gourmet Anthony Bourdain visited for his series Parts Unknown. Bourdain ate two of the signature sandwiches with onions and hot peppers.