While the Cheez-Whiz is the most 'authentic' in terms of Philly cheesesteak lore, Dairy Staters may want to opt for something a little less processed -- even at the risk of being criticized by purists.
Big Red's Steaks, which began life as one of the midnight carts on State Street, has opened a storefront in the former Caspian Cafe spot at 610 University Ave. Three homesick Philadelphians have aimed to bring the most authentic Philly cheesesteak to the Midwest. The beauty of this plan is that it'll be pretty easy to fool most of us bratwurst-noshing cheeseheads.
I had a real cheesesteak in Philadelphia not that many years ago and I do remember that meat was tough, not up to the standards set by Big Red's. This new spot next to the UW campus features several varieties of the vaunted cheesesteak ($6-$7): plain, which rests on the quality of the meat, a very thinly sliced, very lean rib-eye; Original, which sports a generous slathering of Cheez-Whiz (sorry, Michael Pollan); North Philly (American cheese); South Philly (provolone); pizza steak (pizza sauce and mozzarella); and a steak hoagie (lettuce, tomato and mayo). Other ways to dress up the cheesesteak include fried or raw onions, mushrooms, or banana peppers. Big Red's also stocks a pickle bar with a variety of hot peppers and dills.
While the Cheez-Whiz is the most "authentic" in terms of Philly cheesesteak lore, Dairy Staters may want to opt for something a little less processed -- even at the risk of being criticized by purists. The meat is fine, tender, without even a trace of gristle. I do wish, though, that I'd opted for the provolone. I think I'd also have been happier with the steak hoagie, with lettuce and tomato to balance the meat and cheese.
The owners have created a traditional Philly-style hoagie bun for the steak, which is baked in Wisconsin but lives up to their east-coast standards. Big Red's also offers the Schnepfer (rib eye, fried salami, fried onions and tomato on a Kaiser roll), a porkroll (grilled ham on a Kaiser roll), and a worthy plate of cheese fries.
Also on the menu: chicken cheesesteaks, a hamburger or a cheeseburger, a roast beef au jus sandwich, and an Italian meatball sub -- sorry, "hoagie." Yes, there's a full selection of your average "hoagie" as well-- ham, tuna, turkey, and Italian.
To look forward to: sweets from Kandy Kake (like the Girl Scout cookie Tagalongs or Peanut Butter Patties, only with cake inside). These will be available after the holidays -- after the owners make a road trip back to Philly to stock up.
Warning: Big Red's is closed on Sundays and closes before the dinner hour on Mondays, but management is working to expand those hours.