Philly Steak & Cheese
Lean Pockets (Nestlé)
I need to stop telling people I grew up in Philadelphia. It’s not only untrue (Lafayette Hill is a suburb about a half hour removed and often best known for its relative proximity to certain malls), but it gives people the impression that I have even the slightest iota of advice to give them about what to do if they happen to be there. First off, I’m not going to tell a grown man with anything less than psychotic Dead Milkmen fanhood that South Street’s where shit gets poppin’ off, but that’s about the only place my friends and I went the last time I lived there if we wanted a change of pace from the typical weekend endeavors of 18-year olds in Montgomery County: smoke schwag weed, play GoldenEye on N64 and perhaps take a trip to the local Disc Go Round to see if a used copy of Aenima arrived yet. Other than, it was just hoping that someone’s little brother had a Bar Mitzvah recently and their parents kept the leftover liquor.
But now, thanks to this unfathomably swagged out piece of journalism, it turns out the 18-year old me was actually on to something, because when I wanted to do it big, I hit the same spots as the city’s most famous celebrity. I mean, fuck…talk about an article that really Chad Kroegers me (via “This Is How You Remind Me”). Having the possibility of covering the KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas for SPIN felt like a “wow, since the face been revealed, game got real” moment for me as a professional writer. And now here’s this dude, writing for a magazine that I mostly recall as being the most trusted source in the city for hard-hitting coverage of which guys on the Eagles and Flyers were single, and he’s stunting to the editor tombout, “so yeah, I’m going to fly out to Turkey so I can find out more about A.I.’s new digs. Oh, and since you live in Philadelphia, you know perfectly well that it’s no guarantee he’ll even talk to me.” I’m amazed dude didn’t catch a Steve Stoute right there in the office.
I won’t throw any spoilers out there, but it’s an end-to-end masterpiece of hypnotic gulliness, and leads me to wonder what other chain restaurants our most prominent athletes swag heavy at. Don’t let me find out Donovan McNabb was throwing up at the end of Super Bowl XXXIX because he was posted up all night before at a Jacksonville Fuddrucker’s.
The plan was to drink until the pain over
Combine that with the backstory you already know, and it’s perfectly clear David Stern’s biggest mistake wasn’t failing to lock Charles Oakley in a room with James Dolan and a tire iron. But think about what society lost out on when Stern immediately shelved Jewelz’ rap album like he was Saigon or some shit. If you don’t remember, that was A.I.’s rap handle and he had some song out that I vaguely remember being controversial; maybe he called David Stern a flaming faggot on some MJ/Kwame Brown shit. I’m sure it was something far more mundane.
Call you gay on Hot 97
Oh, don’t get me wrong- from the little amount I’ve heard of him actually rapping, this was more like C-Murder getting life in the pokey than Big Pun going to the great Middle of Little Italy in the sky. It’s probably the only game in which Dana Barros could probably take him to the rack. To his credit, he did happen to rap in a Reebok commercial and trade bars back and forth with Jadakiss; that’s more than Sheek Louch can say.
But it just feels like an incredible waste to not have his life committed to hip-hop, not just for what the cornrows and tats and so forth embodied, but the fact that his stories are better than any rapper’s: kicking his wife out of his house butt-ass naked, topping even N.O.R.E. by fucking in the whip (a Bentley at that!) and not crashing it, getting locked up for him and his tear da club up thugs wrecking shop in a bowling alley, the list goes on and on.
We can’t go bowling. It ain’t like before
At the very least, he could enlist the help of some other dude to rap about him. What would it have took to have his mans and ‘em smack some sense into ?uestlove to make him stop hanging out with the Dirty Projectors and book some studio time with Allen Iverson instead? I mean, aren’t they definitely in the top five dead or alive indie bands that you’d least want to hang out with? And I include “dead” because I’d probably find the silence more tolerable than Dave Longstreth. I don’t know if there’s a precedent for this sort of thing outside of “B.M.F.,” because I’m not sure what the opposite of ghostwriting is, but let’s face it, Black Thought rapping about A.I. stories is about the only way I get excited about a new Roots album these days.
But anyways, until that Philly Mag thing went public, about the only piece of hard-won local wisdom I got from years in the 6-1-ooh is that Philly cheesesteaks are fucking awful. I have never been more confused about how something this obviously bad managed to become the iconic foodstuff of one our nation’s most historic cities. Fuck me, Tastykakes (the peanut butter joints are fucking FIRE), soft pretzels, even fucking scrapple would serve us better.
But for some reason, with the exception of barbecue, city-specific foods that are local not by necessity (i.e., Maine lobster, Ole Miss pussy) but rather by coincidence mostly suck hard. I mean, Texas toast, Cleveland steamers, Chicago pizza…I might as well just bake a Polly-O cheese stick and some ketchup onto an entire loaf of French bread and save myself a buck or two. Don’t worry, though Boston Market, you can consider yourself excluded- I ain’t forget how you held me down in college with those Turkey Carver jumpoffs.
Back when I was nothin’, you made a brother feel like he was somethin’.
I mean, let’s just look at the bare facts if we’re going to talk about the sort of South Street joints you’ll likely flock to for a relevant alt-tourist experience (via riding Jim’s and Geno’s-waves). When you shred meat into such thin cuts, do you really think you’re getting the good lovin’ plus filet mignon (don’t even get me started on the chicken)? What about the fact that it’s getting every fiber of life in it cooked to high heaven on a grill that hasn’t been cleaned since the last Major Figgas album because it’s supposed to be a good thing that the grease will burn its way through kevlar? And let’s not forget that to do it real authentic, you have to get Cheez Whiz on it and that’s stuff’s designed to overpower just about anything to the point where you could pop Whiz-covered habaneros like they were Milk Duds? And of course, it’ll all be served up by someone whose overt racism you’re supposed to consider “local charm.”
Of course, even after all my logic and my theories, here’s my version of a “motherfucker” so you ignant diners hear me: a Philly cheese steak might the only food that possibly exists where the Lean Pocket version can feel more like a product of Mother Nature than the real thing. That said, it does exist in a subspecies of Lean Pockets that counters that au naturel feel in that dipping it in ketchup is almost mandatory. At the very least, it’s not quite as urgent as it was in the short-lived Lean Pockets Subs series of the same product. Though the crust here offers more give than most others, it doesn’t have the overtly doughiness that dried out the bigger version. Just enough where you can choose to actively engage with it as a food product or simply eat both while standing over the sink and staring out into the void, wondering if this is where you pictured your life going as a 30-year old that passed the California Bar. Which is undeniably crucial in the Lean Pockets experience.
While it’s a delightful study in contrast, something never quite adds up to it being a transcendental Lean Pocket: the cheese sauce is clearly based on American (which frankly, ranks just above Cheez Whiz in terms of authenticity), but the addition of onions and peppers gives a slightly bitter counterpoint that works best when accented with a numbing shot of Heinz; of course, I’m sure some Philly cheese steak purist will tell yinz to get that Pittsburgh shit outta here, but that’s just another reason they’re not to be trusted. Also, there’s something of an unidentifiable, but vaguely cheddar-like sharpness of the crust that offers a soft landing into the blandishment of the innards.
But as far as the steak itself, it mostly reminds me of the situation existing in the new Ghostface album. Now, you’ve mostly lived your life rightfully thinking that both Ghostface’s music and steak are indulgences, top of the line objects for consumption- note that I said “music,” so that we can overt the obvious plunge into that delightful “she take a bone like a ribeye steak at Ruth’s Chris” lyric from “Gihad.” But like Patton Oswalt once said, he likes his food prepared by the craziest motherfuckers possible, and in turn, I prefer my Pretty Toney darts prepared by the craziest iteration of himself.
We eat Lean Pockets, tossed salads and make rap ballads.
To further this not-at-all-belabored metaphor, the steak you’re going to get in a Lean Pocket is not unlike Ghostface on his own records in 2011: shit’s not going to bring its A game to the table. So it’s actually to your benefit they make themselves somewhat scarce while the supporting cast pick up the slack- the steak itself is more of a hovering aura than something that always has a textural presence, much like how Ghostface only has one verse per track most of the time. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether Cappadonna is the red pepper (unusually flavored, but ultimately necessary) and Shawn Wiggs is the crisping sleeve (should be discarded from the get-go, have some damn dignity and cook these in the oven) in this situation. So ultimately, that’s why Apollo Kids and this particular Lean Pocket share the exact same score: they’re somewhat bolstered by the main ingredient’s relative absence.