Ask Mr. Gold

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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