Regret and the 
cheesesteak hoagie

I regret not playing high school football. I doubt I would have been any good, but I’ll never know, having quit playing my favorite sport after middle school.

I regret the fact I didn’t learn to play a musical instrument when I was younger. I’m not a good musician, but I feel sure I would be better if I hadn’t wasted 40 years simply being a spectator and listener.

I do not regret skipping my high school prom. At all. But I do have another small regret that, at least, I’ve had the chance to rectify in recent weeks. That regret is that I did not try the cheesesteak hoagie at Hilltop Tavern sooner.

Hilltop is a place I go for tacos, wings and an occasional meatloaf sandwich. I see rotating specials come and go and rarely try them, instead sticking with what I know. When it comes to leisure eating, in other words, having a meal I have no intention of writing about, I tend to stick with old favorites.

Also, I’ve yet to find a better cheesesteak in this city than those at Barry’s Cheesesteaks and More, so if it’s a cheesesteak I crave, I’ll be going there. Or to the Italian Market in Philadelphia.

But the last weekend of every month is cheesesteak hoagie time at the little tavern in Clifton, and I’d heard people talk about how good they were. I just never bit. Until late August, when I walked in famished, and, for some reason, I decided to order one.

It was a Friday, like any other Friday. I was hanging out alone, didn’t feel like cooking and figured I would grab a taco or two. But one of the bartenders pointed out that it was cheesesteak weekend.

“They’re good,” he said, nodding. What the heck. I ponied up the $8.99 for a hoagie and a side.

When it appeared before me, I noted that it was meat heavy — I like the cheesesteak to emphasize the cheese and the steak rather than the peppers and onions. This one was loud and proud with its sliced beef and melted provolone.

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I also noted that this version of the classic Philly sandwich used red peppers instead of green. Sometimes I see a mix, but it’s usually green peppers I see on cheesesteaks, and I prefer the sweeter, fruitier flavor of the red over the grassy bitterness of the green.

I took a bite and immediately noted the fresh, yeasty taste of the hoagie bun. It was delicious, and bread doesn’t usually matter to me. But past that, I noticed the sandwich, as a whole, was juicy and full of flavor, seasoned with pepper and paprika flavors coming through along with the fresh-tasting beef. In other words, this stuff wasn’t Steak-umm. In addition, the peppers and onions were grilled along with the meat, with some tasty burned edges imparting a bit of delicious char flavor.

But there was a creaminess to the texture and a light sweetness I detected. Was it the gooey provolone? I figured as much. And, then, my friend (and an already-established Hilltop cheesesteak devotee) Erin mentioned that the Hilltop sandwich also gets a layer of mayonnaise. A-ha.

Now, I’m not normally a big fan of mayo, and purists may scoff at mayo on a cheesesteak, but on this version — and I believe there’s a reason they bill this sandwich as a “cheesesteak hoagie” and not a “Philly cheesesteak” — it absolutely works. I do applaud the chef’s restraint in not putting lettuce or tomato on the sandwich, which would have been a deal-breaker for me.

I’m going to admit to you now that I went back the next evening for dinner and got another one. And then, again, on Sunday. It’s rare that I want the same thing for dinner three nights in a row. Quite rare, even for a guy who likes his go-to meals. But that sandwich made me do it.

When cheesesteak weekend came back around in September, I ran into the aforementioned Erin on Friday and said, “I’m going for a cheesesteak later.”

She smiled and said, “That’s my plan, too.”

Between fried chicken Tuesdays at Mellwood Tavern and cheesesteak weekend at Hilltop, my neighborhood might end up putting 50 pounds on me. And I’m here to tell you it will be totally worth it.

No regrets.

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