I was told that it took 22 years of waiting and persuasion before Margaret 'Mai' Uy succeeded on bringing The Cheese Steak Shop in the Philippines. A cheese steak shop that's worth more than two decades (my entire lifetime, to be exact!) of wooing? I knew I had to check that one out!
For the third installment of my cheese steak series, I found myself at the said cheese steak shop-- in a heated battle against the King of Philly. With the beguiling Vegetarian Cheese Steak, burly Italian Salad, and hot-tempered Buffalo Wings as its allies, the mighty King of Philly drove me and a friend (my sole ally) to submission in a matter of hours.
King of Philly
Here's an overview of the (delicious) mess that happened that extra fine day.
The War Zone
Standing at the foot of a small Makati hotel, The Cheese Steak Shop is about the size of your regular fast food-type establishment. The first branch of the brand outside of the US, The Cheese Steak Shop first opened its glass doors to the curious public last July.
Spot Remy from Ratatouille! (This is just for Halloween LOLs, by the way)
A bright counter can be found right across the entrance. To the right is a wall adorned with pictures of its branches overseas and a bold warning that says: “CAUTION! MAY BE HABIT FORMING!” screaming in neon red and all-caps.
Upon close inspection of the memorabilia-laden wall, the photo of Walnut Creek, California branch-- wherein Mai started “the habit”-- can be found. It looks like a charming stand-alone outlet-- one I'd probably frequent, too, if I were studying in a college nearby.
Walnut Creek Branch
My friend and I decided to take the booth beside it, for good luck. After all, this is where the battle between food and man happens.
Me: a little over hundred pounds; a voracious eater and currently infatuated with cheese steaks.
Friend: a full-grown man capable of eating as much as he wishes; a fellow carnivore but nary a dessert lover; fairly new to cheese steaks.
King of Philly: 10 inches long with about 50% more meat and cheese than the classic Philly cheese steak; currently a best-seller that sells for P699 apiece.
Original Vegetarian Sandwich: 7 inches long; made mostly of spinach and mushrooms; sells for P255.
Italian Salad: a salad big enough for a family of five (to borrow the short-lived meme, let me say that 'I wasn't informed!'); comprised of your usual greens and onions, plus hefty servings of American cheese and varying deli-quality cold cuts; the giant sells for P635.
Buffalo Wings: 3 pieces (drum intact) of chicken wings that aren't really tangy Buffalo but more like “spicy and a teeny bit sour BBQ wings”; spice level is 4 out of 5; sells for P225.
Garlic Fries: sticky hand-cut potatoes in a cute 8 oz. Cup, which strong garlicky smell can turn one's mouth into a rabid dog's; priced at P99.
Chronology of the War
Like all the other great war tacticians, the King of Philly decided to slow down his enemies first before showing up for an encounter. First to arrive was the humble (but deceptive) Garlic Fries, which were sweet, savory, and so addicting, we kept popping one piece after the other. We initially thought that opting for the Garlic Fries instead of the heavier-sounding Steak Fries was a wise move. Little did we know that the fries came in stout and slathered with thick honey-garlic sauce, which isn't any lighter than the steak fries.
As we were halfway through the Garlic Fries cup, the Buffalo Wings arrived. I must admit that I was down for a minute or so upon seeing that the wings were brown instead of my beloved orange. A bite into it confirmed that this isn't my favored vinegar, butter, and cayenne flavored chicken but a soy-vinegar one. More bites into it helped me overcome the initial disappointment. It was actually impressive, if not for the mislabeling. My friend and I each finished a piece.
The Vegetarian Sandwich that came after surprised us with a bursting bun filled with spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers. More surprise ensued as we hastily devoured the unusual bread. “This is really awesome, huh?” I told my friend who was enjoying his half in full-concentration. It didn't taste like something a vegetarian would prefer. Juicy and gooey, it was a thing of beauty. That's high-praise coming from a meat-lover!
King of Philly
80% full from the previously mentioned dishes, our jaws dropped when the King of Philly made its entrance. A ruler, to verify its length, came along it. “Oh my...” I muttered as it landed our table. To make us more nervous, the huge Italian Salad was brought in shortly after.
As you may have guessed, we waved the white flag halfway through the cheese steak (we ended up eating a fourth each), with the salad that was left barely touched. The cheese steak proved to be excellent in all parts: the tender and thinly- ground ribeye, the fresh peppers, and lots of melt cheese. I may be faraway from the world-famous cheese steak meccas of Philadelphia, but that moment I was devouring the King of Philly using the last of my eating might, I was all happy and contented and I surely couldn't ask for more.
The meal left me reclining on my chair, with the button of my pants popped off. I was clearly in a state of food coma. I'm guessing my friend was also the same, but unlike me, he still was commenting every now and then on how unexpectedly heavy our meal is.
The Italian Salad was in a plastic bag along with what was left of the King of Philly. If it could see and talk, I'm sure he was laughing at the sight of us-- two foolish challengers who waged war with him unprepared.