The Cheesesteak Diaries, Chapter 2: Elmwood Taco & Subs, Buffalo, NY

It’s been a while since I felt compelled to try getting a good cheesesteak in the Buffalo area, but after jonesing hard for a tasty sandwich this week, it was time to make another attempt. A coworker today suggested I try the sandwiches at Elmwood Taco & Subs, just a few minutes from my apartment, so I stopped by on the way home from work tonight.

What a mistake that was. Let’s start at the beginning.

Elmwood Taco & Subs is a Buffalo restaurant that’s been open for over 35 years. Because they’re in a hip district with college bars around, they stay open late, and a lot of people know them as a place to get food when you’re drunk. I’ve been told that their tacos are better than those from Mighty Taco, a Buffalo regional staple, but I was on the hunt for a different kind of food this evening.

So I went into the joint and was asked by the very friendly fellow at the counter for my order before I had a chance to scan the wall menu. I said, “Hi! I’m looking for a cheesesteak.” He laughed—not a good sign, but it made me laugh too. He said, “We have two Philly-style subs, the ‘All The Way’ with the mushrooms, peppers, and onions, and the normal one which just comes plain with the lettuce and tomato.”

I was…well, I didn’t know what to say to this strange idea of a “plain” Philly sub coming with lettuce and tomato, so I asked, “What about onions?”

“You can add onions to it if you want. And if you want us to ‘hoagify’ it—well, that’s what I call it, but they don’t use the word ‘hoagie’ here, then we can give it to you without the lettuce and tomatoes.”

“To…hoagify it?” I laughed again, so he laughed too.

“Yeah, it’s like a plain sub with just meat and cheese, but we don’t really call it that here.”

“Heh, okay.” I was game to continue the discussion, but someone got in line behind me so I placed my order. “Let me get a ‘Philly steak sub’ with just meat, cheese, and fried onions.”

“You don’t want lettuce or tomato?”
“Ha, no.”
“White or wheat?”
“White.”
“Oil or mayo?”
“No.”
“Dry?”
“Uh, yeah. Do you usually toast the rolls?”
“Yeah, we toast all the rolls.”
“In a toaster or on the grill?”
“We put them through a toaster oven before we make the sandwich.”
“Then I don’t want mine toasted, please.”

He looked at me funny, smiled, and mumbled while punching register buttons, “Dry…no lettuce or tomato…fried onions…don’t toast.”

When my order was ready, I took it home and set the wrapped sandwich on my desk. It smelled awesome!

Then I unwrapped it.

Why is it so shiny? It was like a flashback to my face at 14. That’s oil seeping through the bread. Seeping. Through. Did they accidentally put oil on my already-greasy sandwich? I almost hoped so, because it’s a better explanation than thinking that the meat and onions came off the grill dripping that much grease.

Here’s a closer look:

I opened the sandwich up to take a better look and put ketchup on and wondered, where’s the beef? I’ve noticed before that in places where the “default” version of the “Philly cheese steak sub” comes with ingredients like peppers, mushrooms, lettuce, tomatoes, and the like, when you ask them for one with just meat and cheese (or meat, cheese, and fried onions) you end up with very little meat and very little sandwich.

  

In this case, it’s good that the standard sub rolls used in this region are so unremarkable and relatively thin; otherwise the bread might have overpowered the paltry amount of meat in this sandwich. It was a fresh roll, though, and held things together well. I don’t think it would have done as well if it had been toasted; on the other hand, there wasn’t much to hold together.

The American cheese was salty and sufficient. The onions, at least the bit that I could taste through the oiliness, were not overdone, and there was a good amount of them “beefing” up the sandwich. They were sliced thinly, which meant more caramelization on the grill.

But jesus christ, the grease. It’s hard to know how well things blended together because I was dealing with spongy oilbread and greasemeat. I’m half tempted to call the place to ask if they slipped up and put oil on this sandwich or if all their “Philly subs” are meant as GI tract lubricants.

Depressing the grease sponge made an oil pond.

Oh, I should mention: I also got a giant cookie. The friendly counter fellow saw me staring questioningly at display case’s massive “cookies” and said, “Oh, that’s ‘Jack’s Thumbprint Cookie,’ one of the specialties here. It’s named that ‘cuz the owner’s daughter came up with it, and she got big thumbs.” Well, then!

I gotta say, if you’re going to spend $3.92 including tax on a cookie, get one that weighs more than a pound.


That’s what’s left after I ate about 40% of it.

Seriously, it’s DELICIOUS. Soft without falling apart, sweet, with a balanced amount of chocolate chips. Highly recommended.

So speaking of recommendations: I still don’t know if it’s possible to get a “good cheesesteak” in Buffalo, but next time I feel like risking $9 and my arterial health on a potentially shit sandwich, I’ll try somewhere other than ETS. Maybe I will find one some day. On the other hand, this cookie is excellent and will last me a few days. And I hear the tacos at ETS are good. Eat those.

2 Responses to The Cheesesteak Diaries, Chapter 2: Elmwood Taco & Subs, Buffalo, NY

  1. This reminds me a little of my BLT experience at subways. ( http://gregladen.com/blog/2012/07/the-subtext-is-a-sandwich/ ) Maybe we should get a few more people together and edit an anthology on sandwiches.

    Anyway, I know a number of good cheese steak places not far from Route 90.

    In Albany, though.

    • I didn’t know Albany did cheesesteaks. I’m rarely ever out that way, but next time I am, I’ll give it a shot.

      I enjoyed reading your post. It made me laugh! I didn’t go to a Subway until I started traveling, and once I moved to Buffalo it became more of a regular thing—because they don’t have hoagies around here. And I went through similar dialogues when I first started trying to order classic “cheesesteaks” at different sandwich shops in Buffalo. “Just cheese and meat, please.” “No mushrooms or peppers?” “Right.” “But it’s a Philly…”