Bill Lyon’s work at its finest made clear the connections between sports and life, respecting the ardent fervor of this city’s fans while illuminating the beauty and truth in both winning and, more often in this city of occasionally benighted teams, losing. He saw the ways that sports can reveal something of the essential human condition, elevating them from mere games to morality plays with a quick style and keen insight.
When a Philadelphia team was playing, you could stand out in the parking lot and the crowd noise would tell you how the home team was faring—if they were winning, the passion was as raw and bone-deep as a January night, an unrelenting, urging surge of support.
And if they were losing…ah, well, then it was a mournful wail, so haunting that wolf packs a thousand miles away lifted their muzzles to the heavens and bayed at the moon in sympathetic reply.
His final columns, focusing on his struggle with Alzheimer’s disease, make for powerful reading. The city is diminished by his loss and enriched by his words.
In celebration of their fifty year anniversary, the Philadelphia Flyers have published a handsome commemorative hardback book, The Philadelphia Flyers at 50, by Jay Greenberg. The title is actually a bit of a misnomer, as the book focuses almost exclusively on the last twenty seasons of Flyers hockey, the first thirty having been covered previously in Greenberg’s Full Spectrum.
Indeed, there’s simply that much history, that much tradition to cover, and here Greenberg explores each season from 1996 through to the present in incredible depth. There’s not much in the way of filler in this nearly six hundred page book. Between Greenberg’s two tomes, you have a definitive, richly illustrated history of the Orange and Black.
Though perhaps there’s an understandable tendency towards the hagiographic in any authorized history, I appreciate Greenberg’s willingness to look critically at the team, particularly several of the years that the Flyers spent in the non-playoff wilderness during the past two decades. No one gets much of a pass for poor trades, lousy performance, or uninspired coaching—there’s a generous helping of tough love doled out, if you will. And love there is, as Greenberg’s passion for the project shows through the carefully researched work. It’s a must-read for every Philadelphia Flyers fan, and between the profiles of the top fifty Flyers heroes and the detailed explication of seasons past, peppered through with insights from players and staff, even the most knowledgeable supporter of the Flyers will find some new tidbit or anecdote.
The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 by Jay Greenberg
To that end, it’s inexplicable that the book does not seem to be referenced at all on the Flyers website amidst all the other anniversary materials. Rest assured that the normal online book retailers have copies. The Philadelphia Flyers at 50 deserves a place on the bookshelf of every fan of the Philadelphia Flyers.
In “Snider Brought Championships to Philadelphia” (Philadelphia Inquirer, April 11, 2016), Lyon encapsulates the qualities that made Ed Snider (or, rather, Mr. Snider, his legendary honorific despite his protestations) an outstanding figure in Philadelphia and the world of ice hockey:
Ed Snider, in many ways was the model of what you want in an owner. He was a man of great passion. He poured himself into his team and more than once yielded to volatility. Incensed by what from his Nero box was perceived to be an outlandish call, he would storm out, ruddy face turning fire engine red.
Ed Snider introduced the city to hockey, taught it, and was rewarded for his efforts by a select fan base, a fiercely loyal following that achieved cult status.
Ed Snider, above all, was a fan, of hockey and of the Flyers. He wanted, above all, for the Orange and Black to win, and while the decisions he made towards that end were not universally successful, there’s no denying his passion and desire for this team. For his team, for my team, for Philadelphia’s team.
Far and wide in this country, you find sandwich shops and corner takeouts and bland chain restaurants offering “Philadelphia Cheesesteaks” on their menus. But they’re not real cheesesteaks. Slathering cheese on chopped meat does not magically yield a cheesesteak any more than stuffing cold cuts into a hard roll causes a hoagie to appear. Without proper ingredients, preparation, and construction, you just have a sandwich.
And while I’m capable of enjoying a sub (though always wishing it were a hoagie), I’m incapable of enjoying the faux cheesesteaks that have been foisted upon an unsuspecting populace by shops outside the greater Philadelphia area.
So when the founders of DC’s Taylor Gourmet, purveyors of fine, and authentic, Philadelphia sandwiches, opened their cheesesteakerie, Taylor Charles Steak & Ice at the end of 2012, I was hopeful yet wary. Their hoagies, roast porks, and chicken cutlets could well pass muster on any Philadelphia street corner, but for all their apparent simplicity, cheesesteaks require some significant griddle work. No matter how good your ingredients and intentions, you can’t fake it.
It’s not just chopping the meat while cooking it; there’s a flow to getting the meat to the proper consistency while folding in the cheese and grilled onions and scooping it all into the soft roll. Nailing the cheesesteak requires training and lots of it, and if you’re not moving enough volume over your griddle, you’ll never be able to replicate the “just-in-time” cheesesteak that the premier joints up in Philly turn out in consistently amazing quantity and quality.
My uncertainty kept me from making the trek up to H Street. Plus, they offer a “fixings bar” with mustard, ketchup, hot sauce, and mayo. Just, no. Such condiments never go on a cheesesteak. But once they offered delivery, I knew I had to give them a chance. And they nailed it.
Precision is paramount to the Philadelphia sandwich aficionado. As I experienced with my first hoagie from the Taylor team, the proportions and construction of this ribeye wit’ provolone were spot on. Not too many onions, not too much cheese—the steak remains paramount. The cheese was delivered into the roll, coating the soft bread and melding all the flavors, rather than sitting uselessly on top. The good-quality ribeye was chopped finely but not so fine that it lacked texture. The addition of some long hots for a buck helped add a bit of heat and an additional textural counterpoint. (And yes, adding hot peppers to a cheesesteak is quite properly Philly; all the cheesesteak joints up there have them available.)
The roll held up quite agreeably, with a nice, chewy give, and kept all the ingredients together from first bite to last. Not quite an Amoroso, the Philadelphia cheesesteak standard, but a very close approximation.
This home-grown roll works far better than the hard rolls they bake for Taylor Gourmet. My last several sandwiches there were made slightly less enjoyable by those rolls, which impart their own taste, somewhat sweet, into the mix. Hoagie rolls need to be sturdy, blank canvases, and while I would happily eat a Sarcone’s roll alone, significant taste is not their role (only slight pun intended). Taylor’s switch from Sarcone’s rolls to their own recipe makes sense—it’s an understandably unsustainable business model, given the volume and the potential for logistical disaster—but I still long for a more neutral hard roll from them. The soft roll for their cheesesteaks makes up for it, though.
I have it on good authority that the homemade “white whiz” also earns high marks. My culinary counterpart had the ribeye wit’ white whiz and was duly impressed. I’m strictly a provolone guy, so I’ll have to take her word for it.
Simply put, the folks at Taylor Charles Steak & Ice have put together the best cheesesteak this side of the Schuylkill. Good value, great ingredients, careful preparation. All I need now is a gruff voice on the other end of the phone when I place a delivery order and it’s like I’m in Philly . . .
With three sandwich stops already in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, one might think we had sampled the full range of tastes on Ninth Street, but the epic Philadelphia Sandwich Tour had one more stop on this street.
Having just consumed a sublime meatball sandwich, washed down with a birch beer, at George’s Sandwich Shop, we headed north on Ninth for a few blocks until we came to the home of all that lovely, crusty, seeded hoagie bread, Sarcone’s Bakery. We didn’t stop in for fresh rolls, though, because a bit further down the block sits Sarcone’s Deli. A simple fact about all fresh foods is that their essential taste is best closest to the source, true for Tastypies and Guinness alike. Forty feet is pretty close to the source, and these rolls were fresh, befitting the best hoagies (but not necessarily the best sandwiches) on the tour.
Of all our stops, Sarcone’s was the busiest. The phone orders came in steadily, even as the line to place carry out orders grew and grew. A crew of four worked steadily, slicing long loaves of that delectable bread down to hoagie size and layering it with meats, cheeses, and sundry toppings. And if I’m not mistaken, there was a signed Brian Propp Flyers jersey overseeing the proceedings. Classic Philly right there.
We ordered two hoagies, though had my constitution been up to the task, I think I would have ordered the entire menu. Our first hoagie was the acclaimed Junk Yard Special (turkey, proscuitto, sauteed spinach, roasted red peppers, sharp provolone, mozzarella, red wine vinegar, oil, and herbs), a hoagie featured on the Food Network (auto-play video, beware!).
Of course, I managed to take the picture of the Junk Yard Special with the non-seeded side of the roll facing the camera (I was hungry, if you can believe it, and eager to dig in), but the essential quality of the hoagie’s construction can be seen. There’s so much going on at once in this hoagie. The herbs and red wine vinegar help to tie everything together, and the variety of textures at play—the soft, oily red pepper, the salty smoothness of the cheeses, the crack of the crust—made for an incredible gustatory experience. This is high food art right here.
And yet, our second Sarcone’s hoagie, The C.C. (roast beef, sauteed spinach, roasted garlic, sharp provolone, Balsamic vinegar, oil), proved a point I’ve come to realize about truly, truly great sandwiches.
Truth be told, the Italian Market is only nominally Italian these days. As we walked along South Ninth Street, we saw tons of Asian and Hispanic markets, including a live poultry shop, and had our gustatory purpose been less narrowly defined, we’d have eagerly stopped in a taqueria or a dim sum restaurant. But this is not a Philadelphia Burrito Tour, so on to the sandwiches!
We took SEPTA’s Broad Street Line to Ellsworth-Federal and walked a few blocks down Federal to one of Philadelphia’s most famous hoagie shops, Chickie’s Italian Deli. Rick Sebak’s Sandwiches That You Will Like, the Citizen Kane of sandwich documentaries, profiled Chickie’s, and I was afraid that it would be crowded from the get-go, but given the cold weather, we were the only customers when we arrived around 11 A.M. on a Saturday morning. I hadn’t counted on the shop being quite so small—really just a narrow aisle upon entry where you place your order, with the rest of the shop given over to the food preparation area. So, we sat outside, in the cold. We sacrifice for our art.
The owners and staff were busy making catered sandwich platters, but they gave our order priority when we walked in. Given the number of sandwiches that we would be eating throughout the day, I opted for small size, and person behind the counter gave me a look and pointed to the sample roll for the small size—not a seeded Sarcone’s roll cut from a larger loaf, like the medium and large sizes, but a plain, single-serve roll. I must not have had enough coffee, because I still picked the small size regardless. Don’t order the small at Chickie’s! The roll is so important to a proper hoagie, and I made a rookie mistake.