A Sandwich a Day: Authentic Philly Cheesesteak wit from Monti's
Let me begin by recusing myself on the issue of Philly Cheesesteak authenticity. Though I've been obsessed with the cheesesteak as a regional cuisine concept since high school, I've never tasted a real one for myself. Sure, I've been to Philly's Best, and while their grinder needs no introduction, Nick about summed up their cheesesteak when he said it was best enjoyed after a few drinks. Fact of the matter is, Philly's Best was really the best we had in Chicago—that is, until Monti's opened a little over a month ago. And after trying their Authentic Philly Cheesesteak wit ($10.95 for 8"), I say authenticity be damned, this is a seriously good sandwich in its own right.
All the classic cheesesteak components are here. Par-baked Amoroso rolls arrive from Philly 4-5 times a week and are as essential as everyone makes them out to be: yeasty, chewy, slightly crackly, and more than structurally up for the onslaught of fillings headed their way. Monti's eschews the highly processed and chemically tasting—albeit traditional—Cheese Whiz, instead opting to offer a homemade Wisconsin aged cheddar sauce along with white American and provolone cheeses. The sauce is a sort of fondue: blocks of cheddar are slowly melted in a little water and whisked until velvety. Combined with the griddle-chopped and lightly crisped Black Angus ribeye, the sandwich is already head and shoulders above the version at Philly's Best.
But the addition of peppers from the The Rocky (no extra charge) is what put the cheesesteak over the top. Oil marinaded jalapeños, scotch bonnets, and charred serranos are mixed into the steak on the griddle, adding just the sort of kick a heavy sandwich like this needs to keep it on its feet. My only gripe is with the amount of onions on the sandwich. They're nicely caramelized, but they tended to get lost amongst the cheese, steak, and peppers. Still, that's more than nitpicking: with Monti's located right around the corner from Nhu Lan Bakery, choosing where to get a sandwich in Lincoln Square just got infinitely more difficult.