Anthony Bourdain 的旅遊節目在介紹費城時，刻意不談 Cheesesteak（芝士肉眼三文治），因為太出名，而且每個費城人都有自己偏好的 Cheesesteak 店，情意結重於口味，沒有討論的空間。但作為遊客，去到費城不吃 Cheesesteak，就像去澳門不吃豬仔包，總覺少了到此一遊之感。
Cheesesteak 的做法，就是在鐵板上將肉眼扒剁碎成免治肉，混著烤芝士，再塞進長麵包中，當然少不得薯片或薯條等伴碟。費城人視 Cheesesteak 為快餐，一般專門店的舖面都不大，多以外賣客為主。我們奇蹟地在晚巿時段，於城中一間頗受歡迎的專門店 Dalessandro’s 找到座位。
進店的客人跟掌櫃一有眼神接觸後，便大聲叫出自己的 Cheesesteak 做法：配熟洋蔥粒、配熱蘑菇、配青椒，配生菜蕃茄等，再留下芳名，付費後等叫名取單。我看見客人從進店到離開，不到五分鐘，但店內還是人頭擠擁。
吃過幾次 Cheesesteak，我大概了解其上癮之處，重點不在配料或伴碟，而是芝士的選材和分量。我愛較為淡口的 Provolone，不會把肉眼扒的肉汁掩蓋。愛香濃重口味的可試 Cheez Whiz，若不特別指明要哪款的話，他們一般都會給予 American Cheese。不管點哪款，我都建議加錢 Extra Cheese。因為吃 Cheesesteak，一定要吃到滿口滿手都是芝士才過癮。
然而，不要迷信甚麼費城十大必食 Cheesesteak 之類的推介，我吃過最好的，偏偏不在 Cheesesteak 專門店，而是在家附近的一間家庭式作業酒吧 Trappe Tavern。一年前的第一口 Cheesesteak 就在那裡，一年後再訪，水準仍然，是情意結嗎？我認。猶如我問你哪裡的沙嗲一丁最好吃，答案可能就在你家樓下的茶記。
On our road trip to Niagara Falls this winter, we decided to take the roads less travelled and not use a GPS. Starting very early in the morning, we were able to get ahead of the rush hour traffic around the city of Philadelphia. After a couple of hours in the car, the most important question arose; where do we stop for lunch?
Living in Hong Kong for many years now, there is not much food that I miss from The States. When I try and think about a food that is “all American” it is not as easy as other countries. Since The States are a melting pot of many different cultures, any dish that I had once viewed as “all American” is normally a traditional dish from another country with a slight variation of ingredients or preparation style. But, although it is not a specific food, one thing that is very “old school American” is the diner.
Finding ourselves in rural, central Pennsylvania, diners are still a common occurrence, although in many other parts of the country they have been slowly dying out since the 1970’s. Every person has their own idea of what an authentic diner actually consists of and I’m sure my top three criteria would be supported by many. First of all, a diner must have “bottomless” coffee. Second, breakfast must be served all day and the menu must be filled with good “home-cooked” comfort food. And finally, it must have a local waitress that calls you “dear” or “sweetie” and loves to chat.
Dutch Pantry Restaurant was our first diner stop on this road trip which filled all of the criteria and provided even more examples of diner culture for us to observe. We both ordered breakfast even though it was noon, the waitress could easily tell that we were not local and it seemed that the town’s entire police force was taking a lunch break at a large table behind us. The diner was also decorated in country flair and we overheard all of the local gossip for that day while we enjoyed our breakfast.
Although we patronized many diners on our road trip, the one that stands out the most was in upstate New York just outside of the Finger Lakes Region. Smokin’ Little Diner had a BBQ theme and was one of the famous prefabricated metal box diner cars. Again, we ordered breakfast and were entertained by a local waitress that loved to talk. The other patrons were older than both of us put together, the coffee cup was always full and we learned more gossip about a town that we didn’t even know the name of.
If a diner is respectable, you can expect to be stuffed and still have food left on your plate, have no feeling of tiredness because of all of the coffee you didn’t realize that you drank, and be called out for not being a local but made to feel like part of the extended family. After this road trip, I never have to rack my brain to think of an all American dish to bring a foreigner to try, I will always just bring them to a diner.