I have spent a day in Philadelphia without sampling a single cheesesteak. In fact, prior to this evening, I had never eaten a Philly cheesesteak, authentic or otherwise. Although I consider myself an aficionado of America’s rustiest, crustiest cuisines, the prospect of beef shards smothered in government cheese ties my duodenum in knots. I never sought out the cheesesteak, and one never found its way into my hungry hands. The Tour de Hamdel is, however, merciless—its nauseating path forces encounters with your very personal, very horrible culinary nightmares. Despite my initial hesitations, I am happy to report that Hamdel’s Philly Cheesesteak, if far removed from the “City of Brotherly Love,” is not an entirely unpleasant sandwich.
As my Tour approaches its conclusion, I am beginning to understand the loneliness of the long distance eater. Nearly everyone who is anyone at Columbia has dined at Hamdel, has taken refuge in a hastily scarfed hero, has punched through finals on the power of chicken cutlets and secret sauce. Yet, I have rarely enjoyed a Hamdel sandwich in the company of a fellow enthusiast. Panino Sportivo is the more social choice among my friends; Hamdel is reserved for solitary lunching or the occasional after class snack. Understandably then, my multi-year voyage down the Hamdel menu has been a solo crossing. It has been solipsistic, and it has been refreshing—the institution of the university relentlessly immerses us in a world of sociability—and it has been sad. I have been able to share my experiences and opinions on this blog, at least in a disembodied fashion. While I came of age in the Internet era, I have always been uncomfortable with the anonymity of cyberspace—not the condition of writerly anonymity, but rather, that my audience is depersonalized and hidden across electronic space. When I talk about the universe of Hamdel, which is, admittedly, brutally anonymous, I want to directly address an individual—to speak to, not at. When describing the anonymous, I crave something more than an invisible ear. Therefore, in this post about a sandwich that emblematizes “brotherly love,” I address my own brother.
I willfully ignored Warren Zevon’s merit for the majority of my adolescence. Only recently have I opened my mind and my heart to his magical and vulgar music. There is something ineffably profound about the greatest Zevon songs—he penetrates to the feverish, sick heart of men in America. A prescription: take, once per day, his ballad “Frank and Jesse James.” On clammy evenings while losing my cheesesteak virginity and waving my mittens around a trash can fire, while mumbling about the Eagles and shotgunning cheap beer and wishing for motel rooms in warm cities, I think of my brother and myself as Frank and Jesse. “On a small Missouri farm, back when the west was young, two boys learned to rope and ride , and be handy with a gun.” Zach, I’ll keep on riding as long as you do.
Next: the Cordon Blue (chicken cutlet, ham, melted mozzarella, blue cheese).