I've been lucky here in Houston to find foodstuffs that remind me of my old home, Philadelphia. Well, two foodstuffs, and both while shopping at H-E-B: pork roll (think Canadian bacon, basically) in the freezer case, and Tastycake products in the snack aisle, though I've yet to find those magical butterscotch krimpets.
Of course, no food is quite as Philadelphian as the cheesesteak. Back when I started my Houston food journey I wrote about one on offer at La Vista 101, and quickly after that I tried a Texadelphia sandwich; today, reader, I tell you that I've finally indulged in a Pappa Geno's cheesesteak. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Look, nothing compares to your local Philly cheesesteak. In the Texadelphia piece I detailed how a Philadelphian eats her or his cheesesteak, but here are my Cliff's notes: sturdy, slightly crusty roll, thin-sliced ribeye, Cheez Whiz, chopped sautéed onions, and for me (and about half of Philly), ketchup. No matter how well it's done here, it won't match that first bite I take out of a cheesesteak at my favorite places back east.
Pappa Geno's offers Phillys (cheesesteaks) and hoagies (sub sandwiches, and thank you Pappa Geno's for calling them what they're called in Philly). I long for basic mushroom steaks (without brown gravy), pizza steaks, and cheesesteak hoagies, but at least Pappa Geno's doesn't mess with the Philly-style steak and cheese. Basic ingredients, no frills.
How is it? Small—I could've eaten a second, and that doesn't feel right at all. Also, it's smothered in Cheez Whiz, ruining the ratio and upping the sandwich's tangy richness. It could use a little more beef, but what's there is all cooked well. The roll isn't perfect, but it's sturdy and sliced perfectly, like a clutch. Not perfect, but totally crushable, especially late after a couple beers, if only they were open past 10 p.m.
Moreover, I love the traffic-cone orange tiles and tabletops, which I suppose copies the aesthetic of popular Philly cheesesteak haunt Geno's Steaks. That goofy loudness feels like home, and honestly, goofy loudness is what I want when I'm 1,550 miles from my birthplace.
(Editor's note: After writing this piece, I found out that Katy is home to a Tony Luke's, a location of the famous Philly cheesesteak chain. Looks like another trip to make.)