Once a dish is declared "the best," how long does it stay that way? How long does that chosen taco or cupcake deserve to sit at the top of the mountain? A realistic answer might be "as long as the restaurant manages to stay in business." A more psychologically accurate answer might be "as long as our pre-conceived or firmly established expectations about the dish in question remain untroubled." A Darwinian answer might be "until something better comes along, as it inevitably will." This week we decided to revisit cheesesteak sandwiches and figure out which answer (and which cheesesteak) was the most satisfying.
The Venue: A few years ago we sampled a number of the cities' cheesesteaks and discovered the one at Red's Savoy Pizza in Uptown. That Savoy outpost is one of many locations around the metro area and neighboring states. Although best-known for its New York-style thin crust pizza, we once declared its take on the Philly cheesesteak the best in town. The runner-up, Papa's Pizza and Deli in Minneapolis, closed in 2012. But we'd also read good things about the cheesesteak served at the Bulldog in Lowertown. It, too, is part of a chain, albeit a much smaller one with only three locations in both Minneapolis and St Paul.
The Weigh-in: It's East coast pizza joint vs. gastro-pubby watering hole. Red's Savoy revels in the kind of ambiance we expect to find in any good-sized urban area. It has checkered tablecloths, vinyl booths, rock-n-roll posters, and scads of cheap munchies for college kids and twenty-somethings. The Bulldog is a bit more grown up and a lot bigger. Its bright, airy space and big screen TVs make it the place for after dinner drinks or weekend lunches.
Round 1: The bun The bun has to contain the sloppy ingredients of a cheesesteak or all is lost. Soft and fresh, it needs enough backbone to stand up to the heft of the steak and glop of the cheese sauce. While both places send out sandwiches in adequate vessels, Red's Savoy toasts its bun just a bit, which is a great crispy contrast to the filling.
Round 2: The peppers and cheese Red's Savoy scoffs in a very Midwestern way at the ingredients of a traditional Philly cheesesteak. Shredded lettuce? Banana peppers? Tomatoes? While none of these offend, and the vinegary bite of the banana peppers is excellent, the classic onions and peppers of the Bulldog met and satisfied our expectations more. In contrast to their rule-breaking toppings, Red's Savoy will put real Cheez Whiz on its sandwich; the Bulldog serves up a creamy, homemade white cheddar sauce.
Round 3: The steak At Red's Savoy, the steak is finely chopped, almost like a hash. It's flavorful, but the preparation lacks any real respect for the ingredient. The Bulldog stuffs its bun with tender, tasty, thinly sliced sirloin. They win this round handily.And the winner is... The Bulldog Lowertown. Red's Savoy once ruled our hearts, but the Bulldog is now our go-to spot for this sloppy, classic treat. As Darwin once said, "it may be absurd to talk of one sandwich being higher than another," but that's the natural order of things these days.