By Tom Ignudo
The world’s largest cheesesteak, 40 plus cheesesteak vendors, and carnival games are just some of the reasons why 25,000 people attended Philadelphia’s first ever Cheesesteak Festival Oct. 24 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The sound of cooks chopping steak on the grill – a familiar sound for Philadelphians – echoed throughout the lot to complement the aroma of fried onions and the live music from Stellar Mojo, Riley McEvoy, Go Go Gadjet, Blackthorn, and The Bird’s Pep Band, while visitors snapped pictures of a 500-foot cheesesteak prepared by Steve’s Prince of Steaks.
Even though Philadelphia has a cheesesteak place on nearly every corner, Tony Luke Jr., owner of Tony Luke’s, doesn’t believe the restaurants “compete against each other at all.”
“I think every single person loves the sandwich,” said Luke whose 23 Tony Luke’s franchises stretch across the Northeast. “We’re all one big cheesesteak family, and we really feel that way. I don’t think there’s any competition.
“Everybody wants to be the best at what they do. You have to remember, taste is relative. What he likes, this person may not like, but it’s all good. How do you have a bad cheesesteak? You can’t!”
The Cheesesteak Challenge Eating Competition, presented by Astra Foods, featured 10 contestants having only 10 minutes to chow down on as many 9 inch 12 ounce cheesesteaks as possible.
Bob Shoudt, 49, a world traveling competitive eater from Royersford, Pa., won $3,000 by devouring 9 1⁄2 cheesesteaks in 10 minutes.
Contestants relentlessly dunked the steaks into water, which made it more manageable to pig out on the soggy sandwiches.
“[The process] was incredibly slow at times, and, as an eater, that represents a problem,” Shoudt said. “I was given a tray of 10 and didn’t even finish the tray.”
Shoudt mentioned one of the best things about the event was not only the delicious steaks he demolished but also the proximity of the eating competition.
“This is awesome because usually I have to wake up early and get on a plane,” Shoudt said. “I’m right in the suburbs so I didn’t have to travel.”
Shoudt said the winnings from the competition were spent before he won, and are going towards his kids’ college tuition.
The festival featured three types of tickets: the $20 “Witout,” which granted visitors general admission to the event; the $40 “Wit,” which included 10 cheesesteak samples and a Philly Cheesesteak Festival T-shirt; and the $60 “The Works,” which featured 20 cheesesteak samples, a Philly Cheesesteak Festival T-shirt, a complimentary voucher for the mechanical bull and zip line, and access to the private dining area.Attendee Christine Strickland, 30, of West Chester, said the event was filled with great food but the event’s organization should be improved.
“I think the event is good,” Strickland said while waiting in line for samples from Dalessandro’s Steaks. “The lines are long and I didn’t expect this big of a turnout, but some of the lines are moving. I think they’ll be better prepared next year.”
Strickland added that SeoulFull Philly’s “ Korean and American fusion” was one of the better steaks she ate throughout the day.
Other attendees also commented on the crowds and long lines.
The festival’s organizers recently responded to the complaints on NBC10 Philadelphia’s website: “This was a first year food festival. Like any other first year event you run into things you can do better.
While there were certainly long lines for Cheesesteaks, the lines were moving and the cheesesteak vendors did an excellent job producing a quality product for the attendees to sample.
Some cheesesteak vendors were busier than others so we see a larger operation for these cheesesteak vendors to be an opportunity for improvement next year. We appreciate all the feedback, positive and negative and plan to make adjustments.”
Despite the complaints, Shoudt is excited to defend his crown next year.
“We’ll be back next year,” Shoudt said. “It’s great. Look at the crowd here. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like for years to come.”
Luke added the turnout for the event was successful because of its “amazing atmosphere.”
“Anyone who missed this event please look forward [to] next year,” he said. “It’s going to be bigger and better.”