Tom Lax has been deep in the Philly music scene for the past 24 years. His label Siltbreeze has signed a laundry list of bands: Sebadoh, the Strapping Fieldhands, Bardo Pond and Dead C, just to rattle off a few. And this music focus actually helped land him in the current issue of David Chang and Peter Meehan’s quarterly food journal, Lucky Peach.
There’s been a long-standing level of mutual appreciation between Lax and Meehan, a former New York Times columnist. Lax had read Meehan’s columns and the Momofuku cookbook he co-wrote with Chang; Meehan kept tabs on Lax’s music blog and picked up plenty of vinyl from him over the years. It was the kind of back and forth that made Lax’s pitch to Meehan get noticed.
The fourth issue of Lucky Peach is devoted to American food, a blanket genre that covers everything from Tex-Mex tacos to strip-mall sushi and a whole host of uniquely U.S. edible anomalies — including an ode to the obscure Philly sandwich known as the Schmitter, penned by Lax.
When arguing Philadelphia sandwich hierarchy, the two major players are the cheesesteak and the roast pork. But all the way out at the end of Germantown Avenue, in a bar called McNally’s (8634 Germantown Ave.), there’s another contender: the Schmitter, a serendipitous sandwich named for a patron with a penchant for swilling Schmidt’s beer. It’s a kitchen sink of a sandwich that starts off with a kaiser roll topped with flat-top sizzled steak and salami, American cheese, fried onions, tomato and a not-so-secret sauce of Russian dressing spiked with Worchestershire.
Lax moved to Philly from Ohio in the mid-’80s and has manned the kitchens of restaurants all over town, so he has had more than enough time to explore the city’s meaty sandwich culture.
As a devotee of the Schmitter, Lax argues that the gooey, griddled sandwich, combined with the warm ambience of McNally’s and perfectly poured pints of Guinness, kicks the cheesesteak to the curb. But he’s quick to note that Cosmi’s (1501 S. Eighth St.) is the city’s best-kept cheesesteak secret and doesn’t discount the steaks at Roxborough’s Dalessandro’s (600 Wendover St.)
To experience the Schmitter for yourself, there are two options. The first is a jaunt out to McNally’s, an easy walk from the Chestnut Hill West train station. The second is to cop one next time you’re taking in the Phils at Citizens Bank Park, where the atmosphere might not be quite as inviting but the sandwich is still pretty damned tasty.