It's safe to say that folks in the city of Philadelphia probably make the best cheesesteak in America. However, if you're looking for a saucy spin on the classic recipe, then you should consider visiting Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. The cheesesteaks there feature a lot of the staples you would expect such as well-cooked steak, peppers, cheese, and fried onions, but they also keep things extra saucy. Restaurants in the region lather the sandwiches in a tomato-based sauce.
Kelly Huth, the features editor of the Express-Times, explained to Serious Eats, "Whenever we would ask why the sauce was on it, we were told, 'That's just how you make a Lehigh Valley cheesesteak." Though each restaurant has its spin on the recipe, the cheesesteak sauce is generally made from tomatoes -- some use tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, or other ingredients to make the sauce. Some variants taste sweet like at Matey's, some taste tangy like at the Brass Rail. Mike Matey who runs a restaurant called Matey's explained to the outlet, "It's thinner than ketchup, but it's more of a jus, just a little thicker. And we have a secret ingredient, and it's something so off-the-wall, you'd never guess."
Meanwhile, the family-based Tallarico Foods intentionally created a sauce that would complement steak but was different from current offerings like ketchup or pizza sauce. Despite the variations, the region is united in its fondness for sauce on cheesesteaks, something that makes the region's sandwiches different from Philly.
Read more: The 101 Best Pizzas In America
History Behind The Sauce
The now-defunct Brass Rail, once located in Allentown, is believed to be the first restaurant to sell cheesesteaks in the area. Former owner Mark Sorrentino told Lehigh Valley Live that his grandfather Phillip introduced the sandwich at a local fair in 1937. The cheesesteak that Phillip sold featured sauce. Sorrentino explained, "I'm not exactly certain, but I would imagine it came with sauce because that was his signature way of making it. That's the history I've always been told."
It became extremely popular, selling an average of 9,600 sandwiches a day. As for the tomato sauce, Sorrentino believes that his father picked up the idea while in New York. He ended up combining the tomato-based sauce with cheesesteaks, and thus a local legend was born. Unfortunately for fans of the sandwich, the COVID-19 pandemic put too much economic strain on the restaurant causing it to close its doors for good. However, other restaurants in the Lehigh Valley have carried on the saucy tradition.
Many of these restaurants have a storied history of their own. Take the aforementioned Tallarico Foods, which began selling products in the 1920s. Over time, the family looked to capitalize on the growing fondness for cheesesteaks in the region, creating a sauce that they sell independently in stores today.
Pizza Steak Vs Cheesesteak
Depending on who you ask, putting sauce on a cheesesteak is either acceptable or a faux pas. As restauranteur, Tony Luke Jr. told Philly Voice, "Where I have a problem is when people use sauce on their steaks to get more flavoring. If you need sauce to make your cheesesteak better, you should go somewhere else to get a cheesesteak." Likewise, chef Bobby Flay prefers to let the sandwich's cheese do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to flavor.
However, sauce variants of the cheesesteak do exist outside of Lehigh Valley in a slightly different form. Just don't call them cheesesteaks. Instead, Philly natives refer to them as pizza steaks. Unlike the sauce-filled cheesesteaks in Lehigh Valley, pizza steaks are generally made with a thick marinara sauce. They also switch from provolone or white American cheese to mozzarella. As one Redditor observed, "You can get sauce in Philadelphia but usually you are ordering a pizza steak, and the cheese often is switched to mozz."
So you'll probably have to travel to Lehigh Valley if you want to try a cheesesteak done in their particular style. The Philly cheesesteak typically doesn't come with sauces unless it's Cheez Whiz.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.