Don Bauder 5:30 p.m., March 10
Tour de Cheesesteak: final stage
The Tour rolls into El Cajon for the last steak sandwich I'll eat for a good while
The final stop on the Tour was a hard one to make. Philly Steak Subs in El Cajon closes early--7PM on the weekdays — and getting out there in a timely fashion proved difficult for me as I’m accustomed to a more Hillcrestian timetable and midnight snacks. Indeed, there’s something about the cheesesteak that implies late-night, as inhibitions grow lower by the hour and all that cheese and grease seems not so bad in relation to the coming morning. It might as well have been midnight at this last stop, as the surrounding buildings were darkening and I sneaked in at the wire, once again narrowly avoiding the time cut.
With over thirty years of operations in the books, it’s likely the most venerable neighborhood shop on the Tour, although I can’t stand behind that 100% without proper verification. I dug the inside, with a few retro arcade games and a motley assortment of photographs on the wall. Where else have I seen Bruce Lee, Einstein, and Bill Clinton side-by-each? The Centipede game--a bargain at twenty-five cents--carries a sign that says anyone who sets a new high score wins a free large sub. Cool. Fair is fair, however, and you better start at “0,” even though the game lets you begin with 25,000 points if you want.
Like Jin’s, Philly Steak Subs offers the sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and mayonnaise as a standard. In fact, “the works” even gets avocado on top. Very California, no? I’ll go out on a limb and say that the non-Amoroso bread in use was, if not an improvement, a very strong lateral move. It was light and toasty, a bit chewy, and very fresh. The $7.25 “regular” size was plenty generous for all but the heartiest eaters. The steak was of middling quality and the peppers were a touch undercooked. The mushrooms and onions, however, were spot on. If “loadedness” is a quality (and I believe it is after this excessive cheesesteakery), then PSS delivered big in at least one respect. I can’t say it was a favorite, but it was worth a “stop of opportunity,” if that’s such a thing....
For the time being, I am finished with cheesesteak sandwiches. Philly Steak Subs remains at 312 Ballantyne Street, closed on Sundays and open until three PM on Saturdays. Call ahead to 619-442-2036 if you’re gonna cut it close like I always seem to do!
Bon appetit, cheesesteak fans!