In an effort to hit more food places in Sioux Falls, my lunch-mate, the SSS, and I decided to hit PepperJax Grill recently. According to PepperJax own advertising, this is America's Best Philly. A bold claim, indeed. Well, since it was that or the same-old-same-old, we tried it.
Before I get to how I feel about this place, let's have a little sidebar. Sandwiches that can be considered signature cuisine in certain places in our fair country are particular creatures. To recreate them is a very difficult task, because so many of them are truly reliant on local ingredients that define their very essence.
There are three sandwiches that immediately come to my mind.
One. The Po Boy. This is pure New Orleans. Essentailly, it is a sandwich built on a loaf of French Bread, but not just any baguette, but a Leidenheimer loaf of bread. This is not your average roll. Thin crackly skin, tasty inside. Ohhhh, but the inside of a Po Boy is loaded with fried shrimp and/or oysters, or roast beef. And then it is dressed with mayonnaise, tomato slices and lettuce. Or, if you are more daring, go for a spider sandwich containing a fried soft shelled crab. Delightful.
Two. The Italian Beef. This is a must in Chicago. Like Pho, a good Beef can cure a simple hangover. Take a hearty Italian roll, add slices of beef that have been slow roasted in herbs and wine for hours and hours. Then, you have to top it. I recommend "sweet" and "hot." That is, roasted green bell peppers and spoonfuls of spicy, vinegary hot giardinera, and then the whole shebang should be baptized in beef juices and served, preferably with cheese fries.
Three. The Philly Cheesesteak. Steak, generally ribeye, sliced very thin and cooked on a flattop grill. Give some finely diced onions a similar treatment and serve the whole shebang on a big soft loaf of bread with Cheez Whiz slathered on it. As George Takei might say, Ohhhhhhhhhh, myyyyyyyyy!
With those three references in mind, let me state that it is an extremely risky proposition to try to recreate a staple sandwich like one of the above, let alone to claim that in a place like Sioux Falls or Omaha, that you are the best in the US of A.
But that is what PepperJax, founded in Omaha is claiming. And, they fail. Let's recount. This is a place from Omaha that makes "phillies." The founder patented a way to slice sirloin for easy grilling. They serve that grilled with "swiss american" cheese. To that, you can add onions, green peppers, mushrooms, jalapenos, and then some sauces. You can also ask to have your meat grilled with jalapeno juices. The "fireball."
Theoretically, this can't be that bad. And, I suppose it's not that bad. My issue was that it's really not that great, either. The steak is seasoned with some spice and herb combo that says Middle America about as loudly as Ranch Dressing. The meat is sirloin. If I am recalling my philly protocol correctly, the authentic article is rib eye. Also, it really needs the Whiz. A superior Philly counts on simple ingredients that combine into something much bigger than the sum of their parts.
A fairly nice try, but just not close enough to the mark for me. Like I was pointing out above, if you are going to go for one of the great regional sandwiches, you really need to nail it and PepperJax, sadly, does not. I chalk that up to an attempt to complicate that which need not be complicated.
Now, if you get to Rapid City, find Philly Ted's. Outstanding.