It's Our City, 2008.
Food and television have much more in common than "things put in front of your drooling face." Both mediums have a breathtaking propensity for being able to almost immediately immerse you into a different culture -- whether that culture is centuries old, completely alien and based on the other side of the world, or just a different perspective on the modern American experience. This week's TV Dinner will focus on two decadently sleazy gutbusters imported from The City of Brotherly Love, Calozzi's Famous Cheese Steaks and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.The Cuisine: Pioneer Square makes a damn fine sandwich. Sure, Capitol Hill has the enterprising Grubwich and the vegan-friendly Highline, and Georgetown has some delightful contenders with Georgetown Liquor Company and Smarty Pants, but when it comes to thick stacks of meat on bread, it's hard to find a neighborhood with so much concentrated diversity. Whether it's the accessibly refined, inventive creations of Delicatus or the generous east coast portions of Tat's Deli, Pioneer Square has to take my top honors when it comes to handheld meals.
Most of that honor comes from Calozzi's Famous Cheese Steaks. While Tat's offers a formidable cheese steak, I've yet to have a single Washingtonian sandwich that was as divinely authentic to my experience at Pat's King of Steaks, one of the two Philadelphia Cheese Steak meccas whose storied rivalry seasons the stadium staple just as well as the Cheez Whiz.
Which leads me to my next point: order your Calozzi's sandwich with Cheez Whiz. Calozzi's is kind enough to the maligners of all processed foodstuffs that they offer either provolone or mozzarella cheese with your sandwich, but beginners should really pay that detail no mind. I don't care how much you like provolone. Trying out your very first Philly Cheese Steak only to wuss out on the Whiz is a lot like trying your first serving of Norwegian lutefisk and holding the lye. Sure, it might taste better, but until you've properly introduced yourself, you're just eating a steak and provolone sandwich, not engaging the full Philly Cheese Steak experience that Calozzi's serves up like no other place in Seattle.
To get the most out of this experience, all you need to do is go up to the counter and order a "Whiz Wit." If your experience was anything like mine, you'll get a reassuring nod and maybe even an offhand compliment. That's because the "Wit" part is key, a shorthand for "With Onions" that has likely been around since cheese steaks first started lining people around the block. Bread, steak, Cheez Whiz and grilled onions make a cheese steak. Leave your pickles and peppers for the condiment bar and indulge in one of the best greasy fists of food in the city.
Unfortunately for your weekday take-out needs, Calozzi's has been known to be pretty harsh about closing up around 5 PM Monday through Wednesday -- but if you're starved for an authentic cheese steak experience and don't have the time or money to schlep yourself to the other coast, Calozzi's is worth the wait for a late night mound of food.
The Entertainment: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia started off innocently enough. Though the series began with an episode called "The Gang Gets Racist," show writers Charlie Day (Charlie), Rob McElhenney (Mac), and Glenn Howerton (Dennis -- hey, what?) starred as owners of a Philadelphia dive bar named Paddy's Pub. McElhenney's future wife Kaitlin Olsen entered the fray as Dee, a character that was initially supposed to act as a contrasting female voice and moral center as the three boys got into all sorts of taboo, yet ultimately grounded shenanigans in their hometown of Philly.
It wasn't until Danny DeVito joined the cast in season two that the show really started to get weird. With his addition as the cast's perverted father figure, its initially somewhat-relatable characters quickly devolved into emotionally crippled narcissists incapable of making a single decision that didn't promise an immediate selfish return. Awkward misunderstandings gave way to shouting matches and the occasional stabbing. Happy-go-lucky hardships made room for street drug addictions and grievous bodily harm. With every passing season, the "what the hell am I watching" factor of the show just seemed to escalate just a little more. This year is certainly no exception.
As a perfect allegory, Sunny's audience has seen DeVito's character Frank take the hilarious plunge from opportunistic, hypocritical sleazebag businessman to a completely amoral, animalistic lush with an obsession towards anything squalorous. While that obsession manifested itself plenty in past seasons, it was cranked up to the Nth degree this year with plotlines like his (extremely) shortlived marriage to a crack whore, his doomed scheming in the world of child beauty pageants, and his reverent, insatiable adulation to a rum-soaked ham that he had picked out of the ocean.
Of course, Frank is just the beginning. This year, Rob McElhenney gained fifty pounds for the show this season, mostly to make his character Mac look funnier. Even Dee, the former moral center of the show, has an episode devoted to her using her recent surrogate pregnancy to cheat taxes. In hitting rock bottom and drilling from there, It's Always Sunny breaks down a lot of the tired, predictable boundaries that the modern sitcom has all-too-willingly apathied into.
The Pairing: Just like the timeless American city that both properties call home, a lot of their charm comes from inherent divisiveness. Ever since Philadelphia's early success and central location made it integral ground for the Revolutionary War, the city has had conflict in its veins. Foodies and vegans alike will turn their noses up at the messy globs of meat and viscous cheese-type goo, while television's high brow indulges in the same kind of sanctimony, browbeating Sunny for lack of any discernible taste or moral backbone. Both of their critics might be onto something, but ultimately it's that kind of polemic, over-the-top fun that makes both cheese steaks and Sunny so appealing.