Monday, March 1, 2010

A Proper Whiz Wit At Cosmo's Cheesesteaks

Over the New Year's holiday weekend, I decided to take up an offer made to me by my old college friend, Chris. Over the previous summer, he had moved to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Since he had no immediate plans for his own New Year's Eve, he issued me an invitation to come out and visit him and check out the local Scranton / Wilkes-Barre culinary scene. Having had my customary plans for the holiday fall through, I eagerly accepted his invitation and drove out on New Year's Eve day. While the drive out had no real culinary significance (save for a bottled Aquafina water and a Snickers bar), I was eager to see where our journey would begin.

It turns out that our first stop would be to a relatively recent newcomer to the downtown Scranton area, Cosmo's Cheesesteaks. Located at 533 Moosic Street, Scranton, PA 18505, they can also be reached at 570-341-5100. At the time of this writing, there was no website associated with the restaurant. UPDATE: Cosmo's website is now up and running.

Not knowing what to expect crowd-wise on New Year's Eve at 6:30 PM, we showed up to a completely empty parking lot and started wondering if they had closed early for the holiday. Seeing that the marquee lights were still on, however, we pulled in and decided to investigate further:

I don't normally comment too much on the signage of a restaurant, but this somewhat over-the-top light display was reminiscent of another cheesesteak joint with which I am familiar, Geno's from Philadelphia. It would turn out that the sign wasn't the only thing that Cosmo's had in common with Geno's. We approached the front door and were relieved to find that Cosmo's was open and completely empty.

Since there was no rush of people behind us, we lingered for a bit while reading the wall menu:

The owner of Cosmo's, a transplant from New Jersey, has clearly spent time in Philadelphia ordering the real deal. If you look at Step 1 in the ordering process, you can see the shortened lingo ("wit" vs. "witout") used by many of the Philadelphia cheesesteak places. They also offer, for better or worse, Cheez Whiz as one of the cheese choices. Now, I am not normally a proponent of Cheez Whiz; however, I do find that certain tastes have an affinity for another, namely a cheesesteak with Whiz. While not an option at all Philadelphia cheesesteak joints, it is a combination available at both Pat's and Geno's. Sadly, asking for a "Whiz Wit" at a cheesesteak joint in Ohio will only get you weird looks. My friend Chris went first and asked for a "cheesesteak wit" which the cashier dutifully rang up. I decided to press my luck and asked for a "Whiz Wit" and sure enough, she didn't even bat an eyelash as she placed my order. Success!

Chris and I picked up our drinks and headed over to an open table (of which there were plenty). I normally wouldn't provide you with a picture of a bottle of water, except that Cosmo's appears to be selling their own brand:

Upon closer inspection, however, it was obvious that these bottles of water were actually manufactured by someone else and a Cosmo's sticker had simply been applied on top of the other label. I tried to peel off the outer layer to reveal its true provenance, but it wasn't coming off cleanly, so I gave up trying after about a minute or so. Also, if you look carefully at the label, you'll see a "Est. 1972" right under the restaurant's name. I had thought Cosmo's was a recent addition to the Scranton scene, so I asked Chris about it. To the best of his knowledge, he told me that Cosmo's was neither a local nor national chain and he surmises that 1972 refers to the birth year of the owner, not the business.

While we waited for our cheesesteaks to come out from the kitchen, we visited the condiment station to stock up on all sorts of goodies:

Besides the usual ketchup and mustard, Cosmo's offers pickles, hot peppers both dried and vinegared and their own homemade hot sauce. Once my sandwich came out from the kitchen, I added some of the hot sauce and returned to my table. Here was a shot of the entire sandwich:

And a close-up shot of just half of the sandwich:

This was an excellent cheesesteak sandwich. All of the flavors and textures worked very well together and the small amount of hot sauce I added post-kitchen gave it a capricious zing that lit up my tastebuds. The beef was cooked and seasoned properly and was sliced thinly enough so that it was not only tender, but also had a nice chew to it. The Whiz melted nicely into the bread and gave the sandwich the creaminess that I crave in a good cheesesteak. For me, however, the real winner of this little bit of heaven was the roll on which the sandwich was built. Immaculately fresh, the roll had just the slightest amount of chew to the texture. I immediately thought of Geno's once again as their rolls have the same quality. It turns out that the similarity is intentional as Cosmo's actually have their rolls imported from Philadelphia. The only real miss on this sandwich were the fried onions on top. On both of our sandwiches, they just weren't cooked long enough; they ended up having a bit too much of the raw flavor and texture to them.

Along with our cheesesteaks, Chris and I decided to split an order of the Crunchy Fries:

While these were clearly fried-from-frozen, they were also fried correctly and actually were quite good. Not greasy at all, they were hot and fresh and dipped in the 50/50 hot sauce / ketchup combination that Chris put together, had a nice sweet and spicy flavor to them. While a very hungry person could probably put away an entire order of these fries, I was actually happy to split the portion with someone else.

While not the cheapest meal out there, for food this authentic I didn't mind shelling out the $10 for sandwich, my half of the fries, and a bottled water. It's certainly cheaper than a plane ticket to Philadelphia. It's probably fortunate that I don't live near Scranton as I could see myself becoming a regular at this eatery. I know that I now have a definite "go to" restaurant every time I visit Chris. I suggest that if you live in or near Scranton or have a trip planned where you pass through, stop off for an amazingly good cheesesteak and order of fries. You won't be sorry that you did.


Nancy Heller said...

Did you ever try Pat's - across the street from Gino's? We did a head on taste test the last time we were there, and Pat's beat Gino's by a mile.

Looks like I know where to stop for a yummy when driving from Cleveland to NY (or back) - though I'll have to get that "30,000 Pounds of Bananas" song out of my head.

Tino said...

@Nancy: Actually, yes, the first time I was ever in Philly we did the dueling cheesesteak battle of Pat's vs. Geno's. I liked the meat better at Pat's, but the bun was better at Geno's. Cosmo's was probably the closest to an original Philly cheesesteak I've ever had outside of Philly.

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