Mar 24, 2023 - Food and Drink

A cheesesteak pro's favorite sammies

Jim Pappas eating one of more than 1,000 cheesesteaks over the last five years.

Jim Pappas is going for a record. Photo: courtesy of Jim Pappas

Jim Pappas has eaten at 1,091 cheesesteak establishments over the past five years — and counting.

The intrigue: Before embarking on his great "Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure," Pappas, who lives in Wilmington, spent more than two decades working in financial services. His kids were grown, his marriage was ending, he was finally in remission from leukemia — why not stuff his face with Cheese Whiz?

By the numbers:

  • 218 sammies consumed a year
  • 3 states covered (Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey)
  • 28 rejection letters for a memoir
  • 1 attempt to make the "Guinness Book of World Records" (He never heard back.)

What’s happening: Obviously, we had to ask Pappas what cheesesteaks not to miss.

His top picks:

  1. Cafe Carmela in Northeast Philly
  2. Lillo’s Tomato Pies in Hainesport, New Jersey
  3. Johnny Paisano’s in Springfield, Pennsylvania

The sleepers: Centrella’s Deli and Italian Market in Havertown, Mix Bar and Grill on Chestnut Street in Philly and Cook and Shaker in Fishtown.

Between the buns: Pappas always grades for the tenderness of the meat, the quantity of the cheese, the mouthfeel of the bread, but really, the sandwich sabbatical taught him that a great cheesesteak makes for a memory.

  • As a child, Pappas was fond of Claymont Steak Shop, where he’d dine with his dad and high school friends when they’d ditch class.

“People don’t start talking about rolls, meat and cheese. They talk about where they went on their first date, the time after the big game, the [owner] who sponsored the Little League team,” Pappas says.

What we’re watching: Pappas hopes to launch a website with an interactive map of his cheesesteak conquests in the next six months.

  • If not, friends have told him that it’s maybe finally time to reconsider getting “a real job.”

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Philadelphia.

More Philadelphia stories