Updated Mar. 10
When you’ve been making cheesesteaks for three-quarters of a century, it’s understandable you might want to spice things up. But did Joe’s Steaks really need to take it this far?
Our first grok of the creation came when it flew by on Twitter. We did a double-take, then scrolled back and gaped some more.
The iconic steak and soda shop, which opened in 1949 in Northeast Philly and four years ago expanded to Fishtown, has been rolling out 70th anniversary specials since January. There was a sandwich topped with Czerw’s kielbasa, and spring will bring a Butterscotch Krimpet milkshake. But this month’s combo is the one that’s really turning heads.
It’s a classic Joe’s cheesesteak — American, with onions — served with Stock’s pound cake as the roll. It’s salty and sweet and totally ungodly.
And we knew we had to try it.
The set-up for the taste-test went like this: longtime store manager Stefanilee Ryan would introduce the segment by reading some of the funny, horrified, shocked and downright nasty comments about the Frankensteinian sandwich on social media, and then we would taste it live on camera — while Joe Groh tried not to cry.
Some of the comments were harmless, and what you might expect.
Along with plenty of calls to “Delete your account,” memes quoting the lesson of Jurassic Park — “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should” — were common. (Ryan’s response: “We’re not cloning dinosaurs here, it’s just a sandwich.”)
“Congrats, you’re now officially worse than Pat’s and Geno’s,” one person wrote. “This sandwich makes me want to fist fight someone,” another Joe’s fan said. A savesies reference provided a chuckle: “Whoever invented this, I hope someone steals your parking spot when it snows.”
But there were also some harsh comments that veered into threats. “Youse have serious effing problems, I hope this place burns down,” someone called Bill posted on Facebook.
“Why would someone write that,” Groh wondered, face downcast.
Groh, who took over the business in 1997 after working there since he was 16, is a soft-spoken guy. That’s in contrast to the previous owner, who was known as “Chink” — and whose name graced the business until Groh changed it to “Joe’s” after the former’s connotations as a racist slur scuttled multiple real estate deals.
In the six years since the change, Groh’s old-school customers from Torresdale Avenue have kept up a relentless drumbeat of complaints. The pound cake cheesesteak provided new fodder for malicious jabs.
News for the naysayers: even the owner of Stock’s, a citywide favorite that’s been around for 95 years, is on board. “Frank Stock texted me yesterday,” Groh said. “He wanted to know how everything was going, said he was excited.”
So how’s the thing taste? You have to be in the mood for sweet and savory — think chicken and waffles, or turkey and cranberry sauce — but overall, it’s actually pretty delicious.
The pound cake comes off as more prominent in both flavor and mouthfeel. Its dense texture is more obtrusive than regular bread, and the slices are relatively thick, a necessity so they don’t fall apart, per Ryan. (There’s apparently a burger served on Stock’s at nearby Green Rock Tavern; we’re not sure at all how that works.)
Notwithstanding how heavy it looks, the strip of chocolate icing along the top — a variation chosen specifically by Groh because “that’s my favorite” — is barely noticeable as you chew.
Then, in the middle of each pound-cakey bite, your tongue runs into the magic substance that is frizzled rib-eye + cheese + translucent fried onions. The cheesesteak stuffing provides a burst of salty decadence just before the swallow goes down, leaving behind a slightly sugary, totally non-greasy finish.
The experience is enough to send you right back for another bite. And another, and another. We scarfed the whole thing in about five minutes flat.
The Stock’s pound cake cheesesteak is available for $9.25 plus tax at both Joe’s Steaks locations every Tuesday in March.