The Philadelphia cheesesteak is a stupidly simple creation, and exactly the sort of thing you really can't screw up.
And yet, there's such a clear distinction between the blah, good and transcendent. In Portland, the last comes from Grant's Philly Cheesesteaks, which just opened a new location on Northwest 23rd Avenue.
We spent $50 on steaks, chips, fries and a burger from Grant's West. We learned some things. Chicken cooked on the greasy grill ends up tasting like beef. The vegetarian gluten loaf is plasticky and has a weird texture that's basically the same as the bread. French fries with a tub of melted cheese ($6.50) are overkill. The half-pound hamburger ($8) is sorta beside the point.
Mostly, we learned to worship at the altar of the Grant's original ($6.75 half, $12.50 whole), with provolone, onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers, and—this is key, if unorthodox—grilled mushrooms ($1.50 more).
That big, sloppy bastard of a sandwich deserves the cult following it's already developed out in the wilds of Northeast 154th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, and the one it's likely to find on tony Northwest 23rd, where Grant's took over a basement eatery previously home to a Lebanese joint, a space mostly the same, save a few pieces of vaguely Italian bric-a-brac.
But what we couldn't figure out is just what makes the Grant's original—again, with provolone, onions, both kinds of peppers and, don't forget, mushrooms—the standard by which all other cheese-steaks in town should be judged. I called co-owner Diane Schuler, a Portland native, who is married to Grant, a Portland native, to ask what makes their Philly so damned good.
The roll: It's baked by Amoroso's in Philadelphia, frozen, and shipped across the country. It's sturdy but soft and pliable. "It's the only one that holds that cheesesteak together," Schuler says. "Only one company does those rolls."
The peppers: Grant's has hot cherry peppers and sweet green peppers. You want both. They, too, come from Philly—glass jars shipped west by the pallet. "The real reason you don't see them, is that the shipping is horrendous," says Schuler, who wouldn't divulge the brand.
The meat: It's sirloin, which is grilled with onions so that little pieces of caramelized bulb find their way into every drippy bite. There's a special seasoning blend, too, but Schuler won't say what's in it.
The cheese: Grant's has American, Swiss, cheddar, cream cheese, Cheez Whiz and provolone. You want provolone. Schuler knows that, customers at the eastside location know that, and we learned that. "Hands down, you get to taste all the flavor of the meat," Schuler says. "At the Sandy location, that's the majority, and it's maybe 10 percent Whiz. On 23rd, it's been maybe 40 percent Whiz, which surprised me. Must be people from back East."
- Order this: Grantâs original ($6.75) with provolone, onions, both kinds of peppers and mushrooms ($1.50âworth it every time).
EAT: Grant's Philly Cheesesteaks, 1203 NW 23rd Ave., 477-7133. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-7 pm Sunday. Closed Saturday.