Even though I grew up in New Mexico (which has it's own bite-your-fingers-off good food; the Manhattan Cafe in Deming, New Mexico, has one of the best green chile burrito plates that you'll ever have the good fortune to find, and their Huevos Rancheros (verde) are a deliriously good breakfast) my Father was a Philly boy born and raised, so from time to time we'd make the cross-country drive to visit relatives and whatnot, and a trip (or two) to Pat's was always in order.
I can remember one night (actually an early morning) near Christmas, when I was about fourteen years old, and my older brother, who was 20 years my senior, and grew up in Philly, had taken me on a tour of the "old neighborhoods" that culminated in the traditional pilgrimage to Pat's.
It was something like 2:00 a.m., and snowing hard, and we dodged the cars slithering down the street and joined the line of people waiting their turn at the window, and while we waited I craned my neck to see the signed photographs under glass that are plastered under the awning, and I can remember thinking that this was Philly's version of the Hollywood walk of Stars or something; athletes and actors and politicians spanning five decades (that was in the '70's) jostle for room under there, and it looks as though anyone who WAS anyone is under there somewhere.
And just as the smell of rain on greasewood and juniper woodsmoke and green chile and sopapillas are some of the unique things that define New Mexico, you ain't BEEN to Philly until you stand under that awning in the wee hours of the morning in a snowstorm, watching the cars slipping and sliding down those old converted cart tracks that became the streets in Center City (apparently no one, or hardly anyone, drives a pickup back there, and they've apparently never heard of four-wheel drive) and listening to that Philly accent, and then stepping up to the window and delivering the traditional "Two cheese wit," and that night, to my enduring joy, the guy behind the grill sized me up in my boots and Stetson hat, pointed the spatula at me, and delivered his verdict on behalf of the entire city:
"You ain't FROM here, are you?
"No, sir," I replied; "I'm from New Mexico, but my Daddy grew up in Fish Town."
The line behind me was getting a little restless, at least the people who weren't close enough to see or hear what was going on, but he looked me up and down once more, and then said,
"Yeah, I knew right away that you wasn't from here. Didn't I say that?" (this to his compatriot behind the grill, who nodded, but kept that steak moving on the grill).
And then, to cap off the perfect Philly encounter, he wagged the spatula at me and said,
"But look; we don't take no pesos here; you got any American money to pay wit?"
I'm still laughing about that forty years later; it was the distilled essence of Philly in a couple of sentences, but thankfully I had some "American money" to trade for our cheesesteaks, so it all came out all right.
I just wish that they would have taken my picture to put under the awning.