The starch in this hoagie was easy to evaluate as the first bites on either side of the sandwich were pure bread. An audibly dry crunch resounded and my hand shot for my drink as the first mistake in this sandwich was realized: The bread to meat ratio was overwhelming. The reason a hoagie doesn't have crust is so that the consumer doesn't have to eat around the bullshit. Unfortunately, this is exactly what I had to do to get to the meat of the sandwich. Besides the ends, the bread provided a chaste balance between crunch and give. If the bun had been filled out and warm, this category could have been a big win for Charley's, but as it was, I was left unsatisfied.
Soldiering on through my first bites of bread, I reached the meat of the sandwich and was gallantly rewarded. The meat was thinly sliced and had a rich juice that was saturated with delicious zest. The meat would yield to my dental advances, but with every bite came a hearty countersurge of flavor. If there had been a filling portion of this meat, perhaps a nine would be in order, but this was not the case and so, blue balls (2) in hand, let us move on to cheese.
Madison-area restaurants should note that my personal favorite cheese on a good Philly Cheesesteak is provolone, but of course I'm open-minded about variations. Luckily I could close my mind firmly with Charley's spot-on selection of this Italian delicacy. The restaurant was set up so that you could actually watch your sandwich being prepared on the flat-top grill. Besides being awesome, this allowed me to observe the cheese melting before my very eyes. The provolone cheese was melted just about perfectly and was in bountiful supply compared to the meat portion. I was left disappointed by the lack of zip in the cheese. As you may be able to see, there were onions on this sandwich and the onions did most of the legwork in adding spirit to this sandwich, or as I put in my notes, “Onions to the rescue!” The cheese shouldn't need this helper friend in the flavor department and so points were deducted for this flaw.
Besides the decent balance between the onions and steak, there was little that was harmonious about this sandwich. Eating around the clown-shoe bread to get to the meat was an annoying task and once I got there, the cheese was all but lost in the medley. The steak was the Michael to the cheese and bread's Tito and Jermaine (3). Another consideration was that, despite seeing the sandwich cooked, the sandwich was hardly warm. Unless your name is Nelly, your grill should not be cold, Charley's (4). Overall, the sandwich was good, but a Cheesesteak is so much more than just steak and onions and so crucial points were lost in this category.
Getting to see the sandwich prepared was a major boost to this subcategory, but I simply could not award a full two points to a sandwich that did not even vaguely resemble the sandwich pictured on the light-up menuboard. To call the menu illustration generous is an egregious understatement.
It doesn't get much better than this, the regular sandwich was priced at $4.99 and green peppers and mushrooms could have been added FOR NO ADDITIONAL COST. While the portion could've been bigger, a large Cheesesteak was only $7.49. Not a bad value at all.
The first thought walking into Charley's was that I'd apparated to a restaurant in the heart of Philadelphia, that was until I saw the six-foot Bucky Badger painted on the wall. I do appreciate a restaurant that knows exactly where its focus should be, and with the random black-and-white photos and memorabilia, I was whisked away to a simpler, glorified time nearly 1000 miles away. Yes, sweet home Philadelphia.
This category was not easy, because my sandwich was a good value as it was and so did not come with any sides. However, I can take into account the bonus onions, which proved crucial, as well as the optional peppers and mushrooms. Fries were also available as part of a combo meal and, having gotten them before, are delicious. So for these efforts, besides providing a value that did not even call for a side dish, I awarded Charley's a full 2 points.
The Extra Mile [2/2]:
You might think that this is where I would take points off for Charlie not spelling his name right when he started this franchise, but I am above this. Free refills and decent service overcame my instinctive urge to deduct points. Not to mention, and this impressed me most of all, while preparing a sandwich on the grill, some of a meat portion fell onto a perfectly clean table. Did the grillmaster return the meat to the grill and finish making the sandwich? No, he threw away the meat and started again, undaunted, with a fresh meat portion. A definite boost for cleanliness at Charley's, and a boost in points for going The Extra Mile.
The Grand Total: 34/50 – An Average Cheesesteak
Charley's main source of points was the miscellaneous category, but look beyond this gimmickry and their paramount Philly Cheesesteak fell short in multiple ways. It is said that quality comes before quantity, but here, the poor budgeting of the ingredients left my expectations far above what I was presented. With more meat and a tastier cheese, oh, what could have been. If you are walking around State Street or one of Charley's 370 other locations, do not be drawn in by the standard-issue Philadelphia memorabilia and neon sign, this sandwich is nothing beyond ordinary.
"Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. I am of course not speaking of the Philly Cheesesteak at Charley's."
- William Shakespeare