Walk into Geri's Olde Philadelphia for lunch, and odds are good that you'll walk out smelling like a cheesesteak.
Which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint. I can think of a lot worse things to smell like. I'm just sayin'.
But this is a little place, the kind that pretty well defines "mom and pop." And since it has the reputation for selling the best and most authentic cheesesteaks in town, the air often gets thick with the aroma of them.
So is the reputation justified? Sure. There are others in town that serve cheesesteaks very similar to those at Geri's, but none better and a number that taste more like filly than Philly.
For the uninitiated, though, it may be just so much about nothing. I took along a co-worker who had never had a Philly cheesesteak. After asking me if her sandwich was truly authentic, she told me that she didn't see what all the fuss was about.
That's heresy to Philadelphia ex-pats and to most of the rest of us who appreciate a good sandwich. The focus of the fuss is a long roll, lightly toasted and wonderfully crisp-crusted, and beef that ideally should be shaved, as this was (or "frizzled," in the Philly nomenclature) but not compressed. The beef comes into Geri's in a box -- they don't try to hide that, with the box in plain view -- but instead of being like those nasty flat compressed steaks, it was naturally occurring beef in varying thicknesses so that there were chunks there among the frizzles, for pleasing textural variety.
And there are a lot of ways you can go from there. I went classic, with a simple cheesesteak ($7.50), just the beef cooked on an old-fashioned flat grill and topped with provolone before being shoveled onto the bun. I was grateful for the provolone, since other "genuine" versions use American or Cheez-Wiz.
My friend got a little fancier, with The Works ($8.95) version of the iconic sandwich. In this one, the meat had been grilled and served with sliced green peppers, onions and mushrooms. This actually is my favorite version of this old warhorse, even if it is a bit of gilding the lily. The forkful I had was nirvana, my friend's lack of enthusiasm notwithstanding.
I was surprised to see pierogi on the menu, because I love that stuff, and it's hard to find in these parts. Two it would be ($1.50; four are $3), but pierogi famine or not, I'd pass next time. They had a very bland potato-cheese filling and looked and tasted like nothing so much as a couple of Mrs. T's that had been dropped into the fryer.
On the other hand, I'd go back just for the fries ($1.50). These were the old-fashioned kind, flat-sided and kind of fat, and they had perfectly crisped edges and were very hot, which partially explained the blessed lack of grease. My friend immediately squirted a bunch of ketchup into the little cup our server brought with them, but I was intrigued by the squeeze bottle of what looked like a thoroughly herbed ranch. It was, and between the herbs and the characteristic tang of sour cream, it was a perfect foil for those lovely fries. I even managed to convert my friend, who had never met a ranch, dressing or dip, that she'd give refrigerator space.
As for the cheesesteak, I'll just have to keep working on her.
Las Vegas Review-Journal reviews are done anonymously at Review-Journal expense. Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at 383-0474 or e-mail her at hrinella @reivewjournal.com.