The 'best' sandwich in America. Not!
An excerpt from an October 2007 online chat.
Craig LaBan: Philly boosters must have cheered when they heard a local place won the NBC’s Today show competition for America’s "Top Sandwich." It was, of course, the BLT cheesesteak at ... Vesuvio?!? Some of you may not have heard of Vesuvio, and there’s probably a good reason. This restaurant has sat for several years at the corner of Eighth and Fitzwater Streets as somewhat of an enigma – part bar, part lounge, part pool hall, part upscale restaurant serving quasi-Italian/vegan specialties – and I’ve had two memorably poor meals here over the years. Is it possible they now make an ethereal sandwich? The answer is a definitive "No" despite what Today's viewers say.
Craig: I ate the said cheesesteak quite recently and found the meat to be overcooked, a slice of rustic sourdough bread (not the advertised ciabatta) totally sopping with pink mayonnaise (tinted with sriracha). The whole thing fell apart before I even ate half of it. This seemed to me to be a classic example of why national network competitions like this are complete puffery. Better than a a muffuletta from Central Grocery in New Orleans? A New York a pastrami on rye from Katz's? Puh-leeze! It's not the best sandwich in the country, or even Philadelphia. This isn't even the best sandwich on Eight Street (go for the Viet hoagies at Huong Lan), or Fitzwater (Sarcone's hoagies ... hello?! Today? Did you actually even EAT in Philadelphia?) Part of the frustration is the assumption that something upscale with filet mignon is better than the street food original. In this case, the finished product was less than the some of its parts. As for the original inspiration? ...
Craig: The original Jim's can be found at 62nd and Noble, just down the street from Girard. And it has been there since 1939. I visited this place, with its patented black deco facade, several years ago during the Cheesesteak Project, and liked it enough. But I returned this weekend and had something of an epiphany. There's nothing fancy here - just the classic soft roll topped with freshly cooked meat, highly caramelized onions and a cheezy twist - a light schmear of Whiz beneath the American. Also, an amazingly earthy ground dried pepper spread. What made this special, though, was watching my young kids (8 and 5) devour a steak sandwich for the first time. They've never seemed interested in steak sandwiches till now (too daunting), even though they are Philadelphia-born. But watching them close their eyes in pleasure and dreamily savor their Jim's steaks until the end, I knew they had finally become true Philadelphians. Now that was bonding!