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Philly cheesesteak? Sure, if you’re predictable

Posted by Paul Kandarian  September 19, 2011 07:54 AM

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OK, so you're in a Philadelphia pub having a few brews and getting hungry. What do you get? Fabled Philly cheesesteak? C'mon, that is so touristy.

Not if you're at McNally's Tavern, a four-generation pub in the fashionable Chestnut Hill section of Philly. Here, if you're smart, you get what the locals do and have for years: The Schmitter, named after Schmidt's Beer, a big-eater's dream-come-true, a Kaiser roll sandwich of sliced steak with extra cheese, fried onions, tomato, grilled salami and McNally's patented Schmitter sauce (Russian, with a kick), and dive into the decadently sloppy mess. Load up on napkins, and for a mere $8.35, you're good to go.

On Oct. 23, McNally's celebrates its 90th anniversary, a place of rich family history. In the early 20th century, Hugh McNally drove a trolley, the longest in the city, which ended here at the Route 23 trolley turnout on the highest hill in the city. His wife, Ruth, started cooking food for Hugh and the other drivers since Hugh often complained there was no decent food in the area. Thus opened McNally's Quick Stop, serving soup, snacks and sandwiches.

It took off. In 1927, it moved across the street where it remains to this day, Hugh bringing the old bar with him and which is still here, in a long, skinny space where above hang pewter mugs that back in the day belonged to beat cops taking a brew with their lunch breaks.

It is a marvelous old space and hasn't changed much, said Anne McNally, who runs it with sister Meg, both great-granddaughters of Hugh and Rose, other than a new floor they said they'd put in soon.

The Schmitter was created by Anne and Meg's dad in 1965, and has long been a neighborhood favorite, getting a massive boost in recent years when it started being served at Citizens Bank Arena, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. They serve thousands per game there, where it is officially known and patented as Philadelphia's Big League Sandwich.

The fare here at McNally's is glorious bar grub - sandwiches served on Baker Street bread and Conshohocken Italian Bakery rolls (yes, you can get a cheesesteak) - and mostly homemade, with Meg reportedly making the best coconut cake in the land. It's a great, moody, dark place, and you must check out the old McNally photos on a wall near the front door, which itself was begrudgingly replaced by a new one, the old worn one sold to benefit a local charity. There are shots of Hugh and Rose, an oil painting of The Schmitter, and a framed search warrant executed on the place during Prohibition.

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