In a contest between the Philly cheesesteak and New York cheesecake, which comes out on top as the big cheese?
In the NY/PA Food Fight, a competition that matched five classic Philadelphia foods with five New York City counterparts Tuesday, Philadelphia just barely came out on top.
For many, it was a welcome and lighthearted respite from the drama and party turmoil of the first days of the Democratic National Convention. The event starred U.S. Reps. Brendan Boyle (D., Pa.) and Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), who playfully stoked the rivalry between two cities fiercely protective of their food traditions.
New York was represented by the pastrami sandwich, bagel with smoked salmon, New York-style pizza, black and white cookie, and cheesecake, while Philadelphia brought to the table a whole lot of savory flavors - the roast pork sandwich, Italian hoagie, soft pretzel, cannoli, and a cheesesteak from Pat's King of Steaks.
"While the political discussions this week may give you heartburn, the next two hours should provide some comfort food," said David Alpher, publisher of City and State PA, which hosted the event along with City and State NY. Alpher said about 220 people were expected to attend, mostly delegates, media, and members of Boyle and Maloney's staffs. The event, held at the Union League of Philadelphia, was sponsored by Airbnb.
Boyle said the idea for the event sprung from a "New Yorker and a Philadelphian talking smack to each other on the House floor."
City and State CEO Tom Allon confirmed this, saying City and State, which publishes a monthly magazine and online content, discussed hosting the event with Maloney about two months ago, following Philadelphia's win last year over Brooklyn to host the convention.
The afternoon was largely devoid of political rhetoric, although Maloney said she was "so thrilled" that supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders she had met decided to support Hillary Clinton. Paula McKinney-Rainey, a Philadelphia native and staffer in Boyle's office, said the convention and food fight were a "breath of fresh air" after what she called the "hate and venom" of the Republican National Convention last week.
During the third round, pitting pretzel against pizza, Boyle posed with a pretzel for photographs, joking, "Do you know how hard it is to hold a pretzel in front of your face and not eat it?" Maloney, in a dig toward deep-dish pizza lovers, proudly proclaimed, "In New York, we hold pizza with our hands."
The judges' panel comprised Boyle, Maloney, Kevin Sbraga of Sbraga Dining, Arthur Etchells of Philadelphia Magazine, Marilyn D'Angelo of WHYY Newsworks, food writer Jason Wilson, and Jackie Rupp of Philadelphia Weekly, although Allon said Rupp arrived late and did not participate in the taste testing.
During the final round of judging, between the cheesesteak and the cheesecake, Boyle declared the cheesesteak the "greatest food of all time." Although the judges chose cheesecake over the cheesesteak in the round, Philadelphia prevailed in the final tally, with 164 points to New York's 149, to cheers from the crowd.
Was the win due to a home-court advantage? Absolutely, Allon said.
"Everything is rigged in America," Allon said. "Sometimes the system wins, and sometimes outsiders win. In this case, the system won."