I tend to get random, inconsistent cravings almost every week. Sometimes it's avocado sushi in the middle of the night, rotisserie chicken for lunch, or a bizarre yearning for Thai coconut soup for dinner. (I don't even like coconut.)
Lately, it has been Philly cheesesteaks. The last time I had one was almost a year ago, and that's just plain criminal.
Billadelphia's in North Richland Hills and Fred's Downtown Philly claim to be the real deal. (There are several Downtown Philly locations, including a new spot in Grapevine. For this trip, I visited the Carrollton shop.) So I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of some of their menu items to see which place really hits the spot.
Billadelphia's: We're talking sandwiches, so let's talk bread first. At Billadelphia's, it's doughy-soft, yet firm enough to hold the goodies. Miraculously, it reheats well in the microwave after sitting for a day in your fridge, too. Oh, and it's imported from Philly.
Fred's Downtown Philly: Like Bill's bread, Fred's is soft, doughy, and also right out of Philly.
Winner: It's a tie. The texture and softness of the bread is nearly identical between the two Philly-makers. And if you're looking for authentic, either works.
Billadelphia's: I've consumed a lot of fried pickles in my lifetime, and Billadelphia's has some of the best, and the thickest ($3). It also has beer-battered, crispy onion rings ($3.75); and fries (large, $3) with crab seasoning.
Fred's Downtown Philly: Not surprisingly, Fred's also has hefty fried pickles ($2.39), fries ($1.79) minus the crab seasoning, and fried "onion straws" ($2.19). Its fried jalapeno rings ($2.50), or "hockey pucs," provide a fiery kick to the face.
Winner: Billadelphia's. It has the better pickle, proper onion rings, and bigger portions. Oh, and chili-cheese fries ($3.75).
Billadelphia's: Next up, the chicken cheesesteak. It's cheesy and heavy on the onions, which I love. Of all the options at Billadelphia's, though, the chicken is the least flavorful. It simply wouldn't work without the cheese, let alone the onions.
Fred's Downtown Philly: Again, when comparing both items, they're nearly identical. The only exception is the cheese, used very conservatively on Fred's sandwich.
Winner: Billadelphia's. It has the cheese to thank for this victory.
Billadelphia's (chicken or pork): Restaurants typically go overboard with barbecue-flavored stuff, but Billadelphia's gets it right, keeping it on the lighter side.
Fred's Downtown Philly (steak): On the other hand, if you're really into barbecue, Fred's barbecue cheesesteak is more pronounced. It's tangier and a little messier.
Winner: Fred's, if you're in it for the barbecue flavor. However, it's only available on steak; Billadelphia's is available on both chicken and pork.
Billadelphia's: "We'll change your Y'all to Yo!"
Fred's Downtown Philly: "The best 10 inches you ever had in your mouth!"
Winner: Fred's, obviously.
Billadelphia's: It has been said that an authentic Philly has to include Cheez Whiz, and yes, Bill's has the Whiz. But it has other cheeses, too, like American and provolone. I prefer the latter, used liberally. Provolone is the perfect, creamy complement to little steaks on a bun.
Fred's Downtown Philly: Fred's also serves up an authentic Philly, but its sandwich is juicier and slightly more flavorful than Billadelphia's take. Toppings like mushrooms and onions are also more plentiful. The only thing lacking is the cheese -- it needs more.
Winner: Billadelphia's, because you can't have a cheesesteak without a lot of cheese.
It was a tough matchup. Many of the sandwiches are almost identical, and even the side dishes seem like close relatives. Fred's Downtown Philly has more locations to Billadelphia's single kiosk, and it has the bigger menu, with better prices.
But Bill Walter, a Philly native who works the counter at Billadelphia's, knows his sandwiches. Plus, something tells me he really, really likes cheese on his sandwiches. That makes two of us.