Jury Duty Lunch: Downtown Goes Philly (Cheesesteak) on Your Ass

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No, no, you’re at the right place! This isn’t Midtown Lunch: Philadelphia, I promise, though after Jamie’s video about how to eat soup dumplings, it doesn’t look like such a bad place to be.  Which is why I’ve chased down a little corner of Philly and taken a closer look. Carl’s Steaks has been on the collective ML radar for awhile now, Zach having reviewed it back in the day up in Midtown, but for some reason the Downtown outpost has eluded us. But not anymore. Last week I went in, shook hands with Carl himself, and took a big, greasy bite out of Philly.

First and foremost, Carl’s isn’t easy to spot from the street right now. Scaffolding is all over the facade of its building and the thing that will really grab your attention is the neon “Philly Cheesesteaks” sign above.  So keep your eyes peeled.
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Inside, it’s a long, thin place with the almost overwhelming smell of grilled onions and beef thick in the air. Let me tell you, if I could get an air freshener that smelled like this, I would be a very happy man.
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When you’re ready to order, Philadelphians probably know the routine, but for you newcomers, it works like this: specify the sandwich you want, then specify what kind of cheese you want (you’ll have a choice of cheese whiz, american, provolone, or going sans cheese), then whether or not you want onions. That’s the way it works down in the city of brotherly love and that’s the way it works here. Them’s the rules.
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When I stepped up to bat, I figured everybody knows what a cheesesteak looks like. I wanted something a little more exciting. Between that and my inability to resist anything loaded with toppings (I always get a dirty look from the guy making my sandwich at Subway), there’s no way I could stop myself from ordering The Works. This cheesesteak monstrosity comes with grilled onions, mushrooms, cheese (whiz for me), and hot, sweet, and green peppers. But at $8.25, it left little room in the budget for anything else.  There are, of course, other options as well.  Other than the ability to swap our chicken for the steak, you can also make yours a pizza steak by topping it with provolone, onions, and marinara.  The sandwiches range from $6.25 to $7, though, for you late lunchers/early dinnerers, cheesesteaks are only 6 bucks from 4pm to 6pm.
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It was freakin’ delicious. And greasy. Aaaaaand delicious.
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I think the one critique I might have is that the cheese whiz seemed slightly different than those I’ve had in Philadelphia. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s slightly more Velveeta than than whiz.

This sucker was filling, though. I was full, though to be honest, not so full that I wasn’t eyeing some other dude’s chili cheese fries. Wish I’d had the guts to ask that guy if I could take a picture of his food. Next time.
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To top my meal off, I had to try one of their Bassett’s ice cream sandwiches.  The name Bassett’s is synonymous with mind-numbingly good Philadelphia-style (i.e. no eggs) ice cream and I wanted to see if the trip up the road had any ill affect on that tasty masterpiece.  To be honest, it wasn’t the party in my mouth I experienced at Bassett’s Reading Market home in Philly partially because all they carry is vanilla, but it was good and had that wonderfully soothing affect on my bulging, grease-filled belly.  For only a $1.50 more, I don’t feel like I was ripped off in the least.
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Anyway, despite the grease bomb status, this is one hell of a sandwich that you’re not gonna find anywhere else, at least not in New York. But a trip to Philly doesn’t really fit into my lunch break.

THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)

  • In the words of Zach, “it’s super greasy”
  • Authentic Philly cheesesteaks for less than the price of the Chinatown bus ticket it would take to get to Philadelphia
  • Carl’s imported another Philadelphia staple: Bassett’s ice cream sandwiches
  • Even when I’m on the Atkins diet, I can still load up on cheesesteak with the Low Carb Cheesesteak Platter. No carbs, just protein, fat, and flavor! That Carl sure has thought of everything!

THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)

  • Again in the words of Zach, “it’s super greasy”
  • The smell of greasy onions and beef lingers with you and my coworkers/fellow jury members don’t appreciate it
  • There’s something just not quite perfect about the cheese whiz and everyone knows that’s the only way to have a cheesesteak

Carl’s Steaks, 79 Chambers St. (btw. Broadway & Church St.), 212-566-2828, 212-566-2827



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