The Fascinating History of the Philly Cheesesteak

Want a mouthful of flavor? Combine beef with cheese and sautéed onions. Now lay your creation over an authentic Italian roll.

Is your mouth watering? That’s understandable. The recipe we’ve just described is a Philly cheesesteak, one of the most popular sandwiches in America.

But where did the Philly cheesesteak come from, and did it actually originate in Philadelphia? Keep reading to learn about the history of America’s favorite sandwich.

The BC Era (Before Cheesesteaks)

During 1870 and 1930, Italians rushed into Philadelphia. Political unrest and the rise of Mussolini made their home unsafe, so families found their way across the ocean and into the City of Brotherly Love.

Most of the families from Calabria, Sicily, and Abruzzi relocated to South Philadelphia. Today, there are still 40,000 Italian-Americans living throughout South Philadelphia.

As Italian families immigrated to Philly, they brought a taste of their culture to the city. They opened delis, authentic Italian pizzerias, and cafés. Many Italians couldn’t afford to rent an entire storefront, so instead, they used carts to sell their products.

Pat Olivieri: A Philadelphia Legend

Legend has it that in 1933, the creator of the original Philly cheesesteak had an idea. Until then, Pat Olivieri and his brother Harry had a food cart on the corner of Wharton and Passyunk. Their focus was on hot dogs and fish cakes.

But Pat wanted to create something more appealing. He sent Harry to a local Italian butcher for beef. Pat cooked the thin-sliced ribeye on his flat top stove. The smell alone was enough to gain attention.

But Pat wasn’t finished. Competition among the street carts was high, as every operator knew how to make deliciously greasy Italian-inspired items. Pat needed a way to upgrade his creation. That’s when he added the onions.

A handful of caramelized onions mixed with the ribeye was a flavorful combination. Pat shoved the meat and onion mixture into a fresh-baked Italian roll to complete the sandwich.

According to Philadelphia legend, that very day, a cab driver tried the product. He loved it and advised the brothers to ditch the fish cakes and focus on their new sandwich. So they did.

And thus, the Philadelphia cheesesteak was born.

Other Philly Cheesesteak Creators

As Pat’s sandwich gained more success, his manager Joe Lorenza had the brilliant idea of adding melted cheese to the steak and onion mix. Today, you can visit Pat’s King of Steaks located on Passyunk Avenue, and enjoy a taste of history.

Over the years, rival South Philadelphia chefs have challenged Pat’s original recipe.

In 1966, Joey Vento opened Geno’s Steaks next door to Pat’s. Joey Vento claims he was the one who originally put cheese on the sandwich. Their rivalry is strong, and many Philadelphians argue which restaurant has a better cheesesteak recipe.

Today, you don’t have to be in Philadelphia to enjoy an authentic Philadelphia cheesesteak.

Chefs from all over the country are mastering the flavors, even in Los Angeles. Don’t believe us? Order online and try Boo’s Philly cheesesteak for yourself.

Learn More Food Facts

The Philly cheesesteak has a flavorful history. Between the cheese whiz, caramelized onions, and fresh slices of ribeye, it’s no surprise this popular sandwich is a national icon.

Are you looking to learn more about different foods? If so, browse our blog. We’ve got potluck tips, wine guides, and more topics created for your entertainment.

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