Geno and the Philly Cheesesteak | Chris Matthews continues his tour of South Philadelphia by visiting the famous Geno’s Steaks to learn more about one of the city’s top contributions to American culture: the Philly Cheesesteak.
Welcome back to Hard Ball, live from Independence Hall. We are here in the great city of Philadelphia, and all this week, I want to show you around the city a little bit. Tonight, let’s talk about my visit to South Philly, and of course everyone knows that as the home of Rocky. To learn more about one of the city’s top contributions to American food culture: the Philly cheesesteak. Here we go.
When it comes to Philadelphia’s unique culture, there’s nothing more iconic than the 1976 hit movie, Rocky, which has inspired countless city visitors to sprint up the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum to try and replicate that classic scene of human will. Even presidential candidates can’t help but compare themselves to the city’s favorite underdog.
BILL CLINTON: Every day that goes by, I feel a little more like Rocky Balboa
But just as widely recognized is the sandwich that Philadelphia has become known for: the Philadelphia cheesesteak. Wedged in the very neighborhood, South Philly, where Rocky lived, is the real-life Geno’s Steaks. So we paid a visit to the owner to catch up about the famed Philly establishment. Geno, you’re the owner, how did it happen?
GENO: Well, it started in 1966 and over the years, it kept getting bigger and bigger and became a Philly landmark. And five years ago, I took it over because he passed away, and I’ve been running Geno’s ever since.
When I grew up, it was soft pretzels, you used to buy it for a penny each in fact.
GENO: Well in the seventies, it just started getting bigger and bigger, and once we got to the 80s, it became sort of like a phenomenon.
Let’s go inside and make them! We took a look inside to see the sandwich that put Geno’s on the map.
GENO: We are going to start out with thinly sliced rib eye meat. We just throw it on the grill, then we cook it up. Then, we are going to lay the meat in the sandwich and put some onions on it. And here’s your Philly cheesesteak.
I finally ordered a Geno’s cheesesteak!
GENO: And actually this year, we are coming up on our 50th anniversary in October.
How many more years you got – 30?
GENO: Oh, I have at least another 50.
But Geno’s is more than just a local South Philly hangout. Tourists from around the world and oodles of political celebrities have been known to line up for a Geno’s cheesesteak. This is he celebrity both we are sitting in right now. We were going through some incredible names in here – Joan Rivers, was she in here?
GENO: Yeah, this was the taping around two years before she passed away. We were friends for about 15 years.
And Danny DeVito. Who was someone that really blew your mind away. Like you said, I can’t believe they are here.
GENO: Probably Bill Clinton.
In fact Clinton first came to Geno’s on a campaign swing 24 years ago and went on to win the state. But a taste for cheesesteaks rises well above partisanship. What do you think about Clinton coming in here again? He’ll probably come in again.
GENO: Yeah. I think there’s a good chance. I think he may look for his picture up there.
OK, Hillary versus Trump in South Philly – how’s that going?
GENO: I think everyone is going to be voting for different people.
Great politician, Geno! The truth is the people of South Philly have held the values that both political parties aspire to represent. So what’s South Philly about? You gotta explain South Philly as opposed to just Philly.
GENO: It’s basically a community of just love, friendship and basically a lot of family values. Old school stuff.
Just looking outside from the Northeast from North Philly, no graffiti, respect for the parents, low crime – pretty much. You can call the cheesesteak Philadelphia’s comfort food. One of the things that makes Philly, Philly.