Who’s to say who has the best cheesesteak? No Michelin stars are being given out to Pat’s or Geno’s, you know? Hard to say who’s the tops in this category.
Well, enter Jim Pappas of Wilmington, Delaware. The man is on a mission. He’s eaten over 275 cheesesteaks in the last year. He is quickly becoming the Decider of All Things Cheesesteaks.
“And I’m just getting started,” he told me the other day.
So why is Pappas eating so many cheesesteaks? Perhaps it’s best to let him explain.
“I got separated three years ago after 25 years of marriage, and I didn’t know what a single 53-year-old is supposed to do,” he said. “I didn’t want to hang out at bars all the time, that’s for sure.”
Pappas worked his whole life in the financial services industry. He said he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life chained to his desk, answering emails. So he quit his job and started driving for Lyft and Uber.
“So one day I’m talking with friends over a cheesesteak, trying to figure out what to do for fun, and came up with this idea,” he said. “I started asking riders where they ate their cheesesteaks, started finding some great places, had some great conversations, and the passion from the riders sped up the process.”
Next thing you know, Pappas has a website with data on each cheesesteak he eats and a YouTube channel documenting each bite. He’s going in deep.
And then, he finds his was to Meatheadz in Lawrence, New Jersey, a place I wrote about back in February. Now listen - I’m always hesitant to write about restaurants unless I personally think their food is objectively delicious, where there can’t be a question. Meatheadz qualified.
“Meatheadz was amazing,” he said. “I saw the Drippin’ Steak, and I got it. It comes with provolone, Meatheadz steak sauce (an aujus). It’s big, meaty, the roll holds up, you could see the sauce in the bottom of the roll…” His YouTube review was even more to the point: “Drop everything and go,” he said.
And last week, Pappas, on the food blog PhillyGrub, shocked the world by calling the Drippin’ Steak the single best cheesesteak in the entire region. Sorry, Philadelphia. The cheesesteak champ is in New Jersey.
This news went national, but even more importantly, the declaration was featured on ABC and FOX29 in Philly. Featured in the Philly Inquirer. And my goodness: Can you imagine what they must be saying out there? It would be like some deli in Brooklyn being named as having the best pork roll, egg, and cheese on a hard roll.
“Never in our wildest dreams did I think we’d get this kind of recognition,” said Joe Weintraub, who owns Meatheadz with his brother Jeff. “I know we have a good product, but for this guy to say we’re the best? It’s great.”
Weintraub, however, does know he’s got a unique product.
“Not many people are doing what we’re doing with cheesesteaks,” he said. “I have this business because I love cheesesteaks. Nobody else is cutting their meat constantly. When you come to our counter, you’re getting a fresh sandwich every time. That’s why you sometimes have to wait 10 or 15 minutes. Go to Philly, it takes 10 seconds. Who knows how long the meat has been on the grill. I take the process seriously, I’m passionate about it, and we’ll never change it.”
And for the barely-year old business, it all culminated the other day on the FOX29 morning show, when the brothers ran a Drippin’ Steak up to the studios for Pappas to eat live on-air while he deemed it the best cheesesteak in all the land.
“It was awesome,” said Weintraub. “Just awesome.”
Gimme two with plenty of au jus.