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Farmer’s Table: Philly Sloppy Joes


By Susan Maslowski

A trip to Philadelphia always means experiencing the city’s history. That includes sampling a Philly cheesesteak or two.

Philly cheesesteaks were invented there in the 1930s at a place called “Light Lunch.” At the time, it was a modest hot dog stand near the Italian market.

Perhaps tired of eating hot dogs for lunch every day, owner Pasquali “Pat” Olivieri decided to be a bit more creative with his lunchtime meal. He fried some thinly sliced strips of rib eye steak with onions and seasonings on the grill and put the mixture on a long, thin, not-too-crusty Italian roll.

It is said that a cab driver stopped by. When he smelled the aroma of the freshly prepared sandwich, he asked Pat to make the same for him. He thought it was so delicious, he encouraged Pat to put the item on the menu.

By the 1940s, business was so good that Pat and his brother, Harry, opened a 24-hour restaurant called Pat’s King of Steaks.

Surprisingly, there was no cheese on the first Philly sandwich. Cheese was added in the ‘60s, and that is where the story gets fuzzy. Some say Pat’s rival, Joey Vento, owner of Geno’s Steaks, added cheese. Another version is that “Cocky” Joe Lorenzo, a manager at Pat’s, topped the sandwich with a slice of Provolone.

At some point, sliced peppers were added to the sandwich. The type of pepper varies from green bell peppers to my favorite, Italian “long hots.”

One of the best cheesesteak sandwiches I’ve ever eaten was at a counter in Reading Terminal. It was topped with long hots. Like poblanos, the peppers can vary in heat from pepper to pepper. Long hots do not seem to be too common outside Philadelphia.

Today, there are many versions of the Philly cheesesteak. Different cuts of meat are used, although rib eye is the preferred choice. Cheese can be anything from Provolone to Cheez Whiz, the latter being the topping of choice for the serious connoisseur.

The ‘70s brought a sad twist to the story of a sandwich started by chance that ended in a feud. Pat quit the business and moved to California. His lawyer son had a dispute over ownership with Harry and his children. When Pat died, Harry’s son bought the business that remains a tourist destination today.

The good news is that you don’t have to visit City of Brotherly Love to enjoy a cheesesteak. Many area eateries offer them on the menu, and there are some unique adaptations such as Philly dogs, topped with all of the cheesesteak fixings.

Philly Sloppy Joes are a take on the classic Philly cheesesteak. They are very easy and inexpensive to make.

Philly Sloppy Joes

1 pound ground chuck

2 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

1 small green pepper, diced

4 to 8 ounces mushrooms, minced

2 tablespoons ketchup

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 cup beef broth

Provolone or Smoked Cheddar cheese slices

Rolls or Buns

Brown the ground chuck in a skillet. Remove the beef from the skillet, but leave the fat. Add the butter, onion, pepper and mushrooms. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through the cooking time.

Add beef back to the skillet. Mix the cornstarch and broth together. Add ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the broth and pour into pan.

Cook the mixture about 3 to 5 minutes. The sauce will still be a thick liquid.

Serve the sloppy joes on rolls or buns. Top with cheese. (The cheese can be melted under a broiler, if desired.)

For questions about recipes or other information, contact Susan Maslowski at or go to our websites at and Susan also has a Farmer’s Table Facebook page.


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