National Cheesesteak Day
annually on March 24th
Made by placing thinly-sliced pieces of beefsteak—often ribeye—on an Italian-style hoagie roll and topping it with melted cheese, and sometimes with cooked onions, the cheesesteak sandwich—also known as the Philadelphia cheesesteak or Philly cheesesteak—is enjoyed today, on National Cheesesteak Day. Some restaurants offer special deals, and cheesesteak epicures line up to order the sandwich in its distinct fashion. First, a type of cheese is named—American, provolone, or Cheez Whiz being the usual. If "other" sides like peppers or mushrooms are wanted, they are named next. Then, either "with" or "without" is specified, which refers to if grilled or sautéed onions are wanted or not. If raw onions are desired, this also must be stated.
In the early twentieth century, South Philadelphia was a neighborhood of working-class Italians, many of whom regularly ate cheap sandwiches from food carts. One sandwich purveyor was Pat Olivieri, who, beginning in 1930, along with his brother, Harry, sold hot dogs and fish cakes from a food cart at the edge of the Italian Market, at the intersection of Passyunk Avenue, 9th Street, and Wharton Street. One day in 1933, Pat wanted something for lunch besides what he had on his cart. He sent Harry to a butcher shop, and he came back with some thinly-sliced ribeye steak, which Pat cooked on his grill with onions and put in an Italian roll.
A cabbie who was a loyal customer saw him eating it and asked what it was, and then asked Pat to make him one. After eating it, he encouraged Pat to focus on selling steak sandwiches instead of hot dogs and fish cakes. The food cart soon became Pat's King of Steaks, and by the end of the decade, the business would be in a brick-and-mortar building, which still stands today, not far from the spot where Pat and Harry Olivieri once had their food cart. Today, Pat's King of Steaks is known for being the restaurant that invented the cheesesteak sandwich.
But Pat's original sandwiches didn't have cheese, and the ingredient didn't arrive until years later. Accounts differ as to how and when this happened. According to one story, Pat added it in 1948. According to another, it started when one of Pat's employees, "Cocky" Joe Lorenzo, added provolone to his own sandwich in the late 1940s. A third account says that Joe Vento of Geno's Steaks started putting cheese on the sandwiches sometime after they opened in 1966. Whatever the case, cheese is not only in the sandwich's name, but is an integral ingredient for the sandwich.
Pat Olivieri is not only credited with creating the cheesesteak sandwich, but also with helping to popularize it. He brought the sandwich to stars at theaters and concert halls and then got them to come to his shop to eat the sandwich and get their picture taken while doing so. Soon, other Philadelphia locations began selling the sandwiches, like Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies, Jim's Steaks, and Tony Luke's. Today, Geno's Steaks is Pat's King of Steaks' biggest rival. The establishments are both open 24/7 and are right across the intersection from each other.
Since the time the cheesesteak sandwich started its journey at a food cart in 1933, it has gone through many changes. Not only did it gain cheese along the way, but many variations of it are now made. Health-conscious admirers made chicken cheesesteak sandwiches commonplace in the 1980s, and vegetarian and vegan versions have been popular in the twenty-first century. But it is the classic steak and cheese sandwich on a hoagie roll—with or without onions—that has reigned supreme all these years, sparked rivalries between restaurants, and inspired a holiday: National Cheesesteak Day.
How to Observe National Cheesesteak Day
Celebrate the day by eating cheesesteak sandwiches! Some restaurants offer deals on the day, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Lennys Grill & Subs, Philly's Best Cheesesteaks, and Hwy 55 Burgers Shakes & Fries are a few restaurants that have done so during past celebrations. Having a cheesesteak in Philadelphia at Pat's King of Steaks is likely the best way to celebrate. Some other iconic cheesesteak restaurants in Philadelphia where you could dine include Geno's Steaks, Tony Luke's, Jim's Steaks, John's Roast Pork, and Dalessandro's Steaks & Hoagies. Some places of note that serve the sandwich elsewhere in the United States are Boo's Philly Cheesesteaks in Los Angeles and Shorty's in New York City. If you are unable to stop at a restaurant or would rather make your own sandwich, there are plenty of recipes online to help you do so. One idea could be to try a recipe that's similar to the sandwich made by Pat's King of Steaks. After you are filled up, you could spend the rest of the day watching Cheesesteak City and This is My Cheesesteak, and reading The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book.