New Jersey native JP Teti last year decided to give London a taste of Philadelphia with Passyunk Avenue, a cheesesteak shop across the pond serving up some Philly favorites. But Guardian restaurant critic Jay Rayner wasn’t particularly impressed in a recent review.
The restaurant, Rayner writes, is a “cheese whiz-smeared, blitzed bacon-pelted act of devotion” to Teti’s old Philadelphia-area stomping grounds — one that plays muted reruns of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia while alternately blaring Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” and the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” over its soundsystem.
But is the steak good?
“Oh God yes,” Rayner writes, adding that Passyunk Avenue’s steak features what a server called “a kind of cheddar fondue” serving as Cheez Whiz paired with beef that has “been sliced and sliced again.” The result, he says, is a mess of “cheesy oniony beef” (or “beefy oniony cheese”) that will “stay with you, possibly for days.”
One small caveat, though: Rayner admits he has never had a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, though he has had versions of the sandwich in Los Angeles and New York — which, to us, may mean that he has technically never had a cheesesteak at all. As Rayner noted, however, “authenticity has never trouble me as much as” whether something tastes “nice,” which Passyunk Avenue’s steaks apparently do.
Rayner also lauded the restaurant for its buffalo wings, which had “the perfect lip-tingling smack of heat and salt and sour,” as well as its tater tots, though he admitted diners may want to have “access to a defibrillator” after the latter dish. Its iceberg wedge salad, meanwhile, was “cracking,” and seemed to come “live and direct from 1976,” which Rayner found “refreshing.”
Passyunk Avenue’s roast pork sandwich, however, left much to be desired for Rayner, who noted that the porchetta used in the dish was more like “limp, depressed, grey slices of meat” than the sumptuous pork Philadelphians know and love. The restaurant’s cannoli’s, meanwhile, looked like “giant stubbed out cigarettes,” Rayner wrote. As a result, he says, Passyunk Avenue is a “one dish kind of place,” and that dish is the cheesesteak.
Least impressive for Rayner were the restaurant’s newly establish brick-and-mortar digs, which are a step up from its humble beginnings as a food truck known as Liberty Cheesesteak Company. Though, in the Guardian critic’s perception, Passyunk Avenue hasn’t upped its game in that arena much.
“While it now has walls and windows, in truth that’s what it still feels like,” Rayner wrote. The critic also noted that seating, which he called “benches that are not much evolved from planks,” is not exactly comfortable.
As Teti, a London resident of about a decade, told the Inquirer last January, that last bit a criticism was expected. The goal, he said, was to create a “one-off dive bar vibe,” which is “a concept that’s not really understood in Europe.” The cheesesteak, he added, was also something of a shock to locals.
“We had this initial shock from the locals who have had to sort of ‘re-understand’ what a sandwich is, and then I think comes a deeper appreciation for what we’re doing in general,” he said.
Rayner, at least, picked up on that last part, noting in his review of Passyunk Avenue that the restaurant’s creators “wanted a bit of Philadelphia in London,” and “created it for themselves” after being unable to find a suitable surrogate.
In truth, Rayner’s review of Passyunk Avenue isn’t exactly bad — at least not by his standards. Take, for example, his newly published review of London’s Farm Girl Café, in which he wrote that “the food was so bad, a nearby Yorkshire terrier started to look more appetising.” Or perhaps his April 2017 review of Le Cinq, a Paris-based restaurant that “supplied by far the worst restaurant experience” the critic had ever had, which he also admitted was “an achievement of sorts.”
Rayner, in fact, has published so many blistering restaurant reviews across his decades-long career that last year, he published a book of them. Dubbed Wasted Calories and Ruined Nights: A Journey Deeper into Dining Hell, the book contains about 20 of the critic’s most brutal restaurant reviews. Though, as Rayner noted in post online last year, he doesn’t exactly enjoy writing bleak reviews, and only about a fifth of his annual published work is negative.
In that sense, Passyunk Avenue maybe got off light. Passyunk Avenue seemed pretty happy with the review on social media.
“Thanks to Jay for understanding that our concept is not only about the food,” Passyunk Avenue wrote via a tweet, “but also our devotion to representing our city and it’s culture.”