QUESTION: Last March, when John Kerry ate a cheesesteak at South Philadelphia’s
notorious stand Pat’s, he ordered it topped with Swiss cheese, and Howard Dean
made fun of him. At Pat’s, apparently, you’re supposed to eat your cheesesteak
topped with Cheez Whiz, although to me that is a little too much to ask of a
man who is also supposed to display his mastery of baby kissing and the United
States nuclear arsenal.
A few days ago, George W. Bush told a Philadelphia audience that he liked
his cheesesteaks “Whiz with,” which is what those boys in the button-down shirts
say to the countermen at Pat’s when they’re trying to convince their dates of
their worldliness, although I’ve never heard the phrase spoken by an actual
South Philly guy. But according to the blogger Atrios, a Philadelphia newspaper
discovered that Bush actually “prefers his steak …accompanied only by cheese
of the American variety.”
What I want to know is:
1) Wasn’t the original cheesesteak made with provolone?
2) What kind of a man would lie to the American people about the kind of cheese
he likes on his sandwich?
—Casey, Santa Monica
ANSWER: Provolone is the cheesesteak cheese, preferably an extra-sharp
provolone with a distinctly savage bite. A cheesesteak is supposed to hurt,
and it takes more than those fried dry Japanese chiles that Pat’s offers as
a condiment. The provolone at Philadelphia’s Tony Luke’s is the right stuff.
The provolone at Jim’s (which is where Mr. Bush gets his steaks with American
cheese) is the right stuff. The provolone offered at Philly West in West Los
Angeles, or even South Street in Westwood, which offers no Whiz, is the right
stuff, or close enough. In Philadelphia, I’ve heard, Cheez Whiz is often considered
a tourist affectation, the kind of thing ordered by a person more concerned
with what people might think of him than with what he might be putting into
his mouth. Although I admit that I’ve had a steak or 10 with Whiz in my time,
that was only before I learned about the superior qualities of provolone. Swiss
cheese I don’t know about. At least Kerry is secure in his preferences.
As to your second question: A man who would lie about the kind of cheese he
likes on a sandwich is a man who would lie about anything.
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