As Philadelphia’s premier private club for power brokers of all political leanings, the Union League has been the site of many pitched ideological battles, none perhaps as tastily contested as what took place there Tuesday afternoon during the Democratic National Convention.
At City & State's “Cheesesteak vs. Cheesecake: A New York-Philly Food Fight,” sponsored by AirBnB, a crowd of 150 members of the New York and Pennsylvania delegations watched a panel of judges eat their way through each city’s most iconic foodstuffs to determine which city would earn bragging rights until the 2020 DNC.
The idea for the event came from a friendly competition that developed between Congressman Brendan Boyle, who represents PA’s 13th Congressional District, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who represents New York’s 12th Congressional District, as both Brooklyn and Philadelphia vied for the right to host the 2016 DNC.
“Brendan and I were competing against each other for the convention, recalled Maloney. “I said to Brendan, “Let’s have a food fight when we have the convention.’ I thought we were just going to have the cheesecake and cheesesteak, the symbols of our cities.”
Ultimately, the event grew to include head-to-head competitions between such standbys as Katz’s pastrami on rye vs. DiNics’ roast pork with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone; Sarcone’s Italian hoagie vs. Russ and Daughters’ bagel and lox; Federal soft pretzel vs. Lombardi’s pizza; Termini’s cannoli vs. Greenberg’s black-and-white cookie; and Pat’s cheesesteak vs. Junior’s cheesecake.
Although the crowd didn’t get to have what the judges were having, that didn’t stop people like Maria Luna from enjoying the spectacle. “The last time I came, the weather was better,” Luna, a delegate from Maloney’s district, joked. “It’s nice to see this collaboration between the two cities – it’s such a unique event.”
For the judges, it was also a grueling one, although filled with surprises for some, like restaurateur Kevin Sbraga, who had never tasted a black-and-white cookie before. “I really liked it,” he enthused. “It was so much softer than I expected, and the icing was a nice touch.”
The sense of novelty wasn’t enough for the New York culinary contingent, though, as Philadelphia foods took three out of five categories: Roast pork over pastrami, hoagie over bagel and cannoli over cookie. (New York won with pizza over pretzel and cheesecake over cheesesteak.)
After joking that it’s always nice to beat New York – although the NYC contingent did represent to a greater extent than the hometown delegation – Boyle grew serious as he noted that the collaborative spirit of the event is something that has been lacking for far too long in the halls of Congress.
“Believe it or not, I think more events like this should take place in Washington, DC.,” Boyle said. “People talk about a previous era in Congress, they lament the fact that these sorts of events don’t happen anymore. As a result, these sorts of close relationships” that once occurred across the aisle as a matter of course “don’t form. It’s really hard to bash the other side and dehumanize them if you were out with them the night before.”