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15 cheesesteak facts that may surprise you

Strange and true facts about Philly’s most famous sandwich.

Rob Douglas prepares a cheesesteak at Max's Steaks in North Philadelphia.
Rob Douglas prepares a cheesesteak at Max's Steaks in North Philadelphia.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Think you know cheesesteaks? We have some surprises for you.

» READ MORE: The best cheesesteaks to eat in Philly right now

1. The cheesesteak began in South Philadelphia with a hot dog cart and a taxi driver.

Here’s the often-told origin story: In 1930, the story goes, a taxi driver pulled up to Pat Olivieri’s hot dog cart at Ninth and Passyunk, spotted him grilling beef from a butcher for his own lunch, and suggested he sell it. Yes, that’s the same Pat of Pat’s King of Steaks.

» READ MORE: The history of Philly's most popular cheesesteaks, including Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, and Dalessandro’s

2. Philly has a James Beard award-winning restaurant that sells cheesesteaks

South Philly’s John’s Roast Pork won a James Beard Award in 2006. Roast Pork might be their most famous menu item, but their cheesesteaks are still coming from a culinary pro.

» READ MORE: The best cheesesteaks to eat in Philly right now

3. Restaurant-made Cheesesteaks have cheesier Whiz

According to the seminal tome The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book by Carolyn Wyman, food-service grade Cheez Whiz used by restaurants has more real cheese than the jarred stuff sold at supermarkets.

4. You can make a “Philly taco” at home

The carbs-on-carbs creation mixes a cheesesteak from Jim’s and a slice of pizza from Lorenzo and Sons. At least that’s how it was invented in 2003, by friends Jeff Barg and Adam Gordon, who called it the Lorenzo’s-Jim’s Challenge. You can buy both ingredients and make your own Philly taco at home.

» READ MORE: The Philly Taco is cheesesteak wrapped in a slice of pizza. Get it under one roof at Pizza Da’Action on South Street.

5. The most expensive cheesesteak in Philly is $140, and it comes with champagne

If you’re feeling luxe, Barclay Prime’s signature cheesesteak is made with wagyu ribeye, foie gras, onions, truffled cheese whiz on a fresh baked sesame roll served with a ½ bottle of champagne.

» READ MORE: There's a fancy cheesesteak, at Barclay Prime

6. The Eagles helped make a football-field-length cheesesteak on a single roll.

The year was 1998. The cheesesteak was 365 feet, 7 inches long; weighed 1,790 pounds, and measured just a few inches longer than a football field. It may have been the Eagles’ biggest accomplishment that year.

» READ MORE: Record cheesesteak is all Eagles fans can savor

7. Steak-umm was named after an argument

According to The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book by Carolyn Wyman, Steak-umm, the most successful boxed frozen sandwich steak, got its name during an argument over what to call it. Fed up, someone used a profanity followed by “. . . ‘em, stick ‘em with Steak-umm.” Which feels ... very ... Philly.

8. Philly cheesesteaks are delivered across the country.

Some of Philly’s most famous steaks, including Pat’s, Jim’s, Joe’s, and John’s Roast Pork all ship across the country through Goldbelly. Even Goldbergs-approved Donkey Place is there, despite being an anomaly: It isn’t named after a dude, it isn’t in Philly (it’s in Camden), and, most iconoclastic: It serves its steak on a kaiser roll.

» READ MORE: Best cheesesteak? It's Donkey's Place in Camden, per 'The Goldbergs'

9. Cheesesteaks come with all types of fillers

Don’t be so literal. There are lots of variations on the classic, all beloved. There’s the chicken steak, likely invented in West Philly in the early 1980s by Bill “Schultzy” Schultz of Billy Bob’s. There’s numerous takes on the vegan cheesesteak. Among those winning acclaim: Questlove’s own version, made with impossible meat, Blackbird Pizzeria’s version with seitan, among others. And, of course, there’s North Philly’s fish cheesesteaks, which are loved by many more than the beef version.

» READ MORE: Questlove will sell plant-based cheesesteak at Citizens Bank Park

10. Pat Olivieri, founder of Pat’s King of Steaks, offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he was using horsemeat

During the Depression, when meat was in short supply, people said Pat was cooking up old World War I cavalry horses from the Navy Yard, because his brother worked there. Pat offered the reward, in the showiest way possible: He put the cash in a glass jar out front. And according to his nephew, Frank Olivieri Jr., “People would come from all over to try to prove the rumor true. But nobody ever could...because Pat’s the one who started it.”

» READ MORE: How Pat's staked its claim to cheesesteak fame

11. There are lots of 24-hour cheesesteak spots

If you are craving a late-night cheesesteak, or a breakfast one (we’re not judging), there are plenty of spots that will make you the sandwich, among them the cheesesteak corner mainstays of Pat’s and Geno’s, as well as South Philly’s Oregon Steaks, and West Passyunk’s Philip’s Steaks.

12. Herr’s once made cheesesteak-flavored chips

Herr’s started making chips in 1946 in Lancaster, so of course they made a chip version of the Philly classic. According to chip-reviewing site Chip Review, they are rated 4 out of 5 chips, or “lip-smacking.” Another online review had the following tasting notes: “These potato chips were crisp with a nice kettle-cooked crunch, and they had a tasty, very oniony steak flavor, like grilled onions. There was no cheese in the taste that I could notice.” The product has, sadly, been discontinued.

14. There’s a cheesesteak cheesecake

And it’s surprisingly good. The cake is built on a crushed cracker crust, and made of a cream cheese and provolone base. It’s topped with steak, onions, and peppers (Whiz is optional). “The best part of it is the peppers,” said Craig LaBan. “It gives it a nice crunch.” You can get all the details, and the recipe here.

» READ MORE: The cheesesteak cheesecake actually tastes good

15. Bob Dylan once offered an autograph at Jim’s, but got turned down.

According to Wyman’s book, an unimpressed meat cutter declined Dylan’s offer. How many roads must a man walk down, before he is famous enough to get his autograph on the wall at Jim’s?

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