This is not an idle mission. Ask any reputable — or even semi-reputable — Philly cheesesteak purveyor, and they’ll tell you the bread is paramount in a properly made sandwich. The soft, pliable and surprisingly sturdy roll can’t be easily replaced, at least not without a good tongue lashing from a cheesesteak snob (which is not a contradiction in terms). Patten and Mazza understand the roll’s importance, which is why after having found suppliers for almost every other ingredient in their cheesesteak, they’re still futzing with the bread.
To help with the intelligence-gathering, the guys have dragged Alan Hakimi to Philly. He is the Iranian-born, American-raised owner of Lyon Bakery, a District-based wholesale bread operation that supplies Taberna del Alabardero, Busboys & Poets and even Taylor Gourmet (the baker has developed a custom hoagie roll for the small chain). Hakimi, unfortunately, missed the Philip’s run. Mazza and Hakimi, riding in a separate vehicle, got their signals crossed and ended up at Steve’s Prince of Steaks, where they were warm and dry in the climate-controlled confines of the northeast Philly shop.
Not that it mattered much. Hakimi would later taste the roll that Philip’s uses. It’s a D’Ambrosio Bakery roll, a thinner, browner and slightly crustier bread than those used at Pat’s King of Steaks, Tony Luke’s or Geno’s Steaks, perhaps the three most famous cheesesteak outlets here (and all stops in our fat-fest). Patten digs the D’Ambrosio roll at Philip’s. He likes its sturdiness and absorption: its ability, in other words, to ferry the moisture-laden contents of a cheesesteak without turning to mush.
But mostly Patten likes the D’Ambrosio roll’s chewiness, or elasticity. Patten is big on elasticity. Twice, the Taylor owner invites Hakimi to pull the other end of a small piece of cheesesteak roll, in a kind of curbside tug-of-war, to demonstrate a bread’s taffylike properties.
“One of the texture components that has to be right, since you’re doing sandwiches, is the bread,” says Patten. “That elasticity and pull and chew that you get along with the meat . . . to me, that’s part of the textural component of the cheesesteak.”