John's Roast Pork on East Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia.
Sen. Obama, take note.
In his review, Macnow insisted reputation, including magazine raves and a national award, didn't influence him or his interns: "We were skeptical. No place can be that good. But, tell you what – one whiff of the aroma wafting from John's had us enticed. And one bite of the $7.76 cheesesteak, and we were in gastronomic heaven. This, my friends, is ecstasy on a toasted Carangi's roll."
Completing Macnow's Top 10:
2. Steve's Prince of Steaks, Philadelphia
3. Chink's Steaks, Northeast
4. Talk of the Town, South Philadelphia
5. Grey Lodge Pub, Northeast
6. Slack's Hoagie Shack, Northeast
7. Sonny's Famous Steaks, Old City
8. Tony Luke's, South Philadelphia
9. White House Sub Shop, Atlantic City
10. Dalessandro's, Roxborough
Chink's, Tony Luke's and Dalessandro's impressed LaBan as well.
Cosmi's Deli, which topped a Philadelphia Magazine list in 2004, finished 17th on Macnow's list. The magazine's runners-up were Dakota Pizza Co. in Wynnewood, Lee's Hoagie House in Marlton, the Swann Lounge at the Four Seasons hotel, and Tony Luke's.
Those picks raise a real question about best suburban cheesesteak. Last year, the monthly named a new suburban favorite: Garrett Hill Pizza of Villanova. Macnow, who had more than 200 suggestions, didn't go to Dakota, Lee's or Garrett. His suburban favorite was Donkey's II in Marlton, which finished 11th, five spots above Pepper Mill in West Chester.
For Macnow's full list, go to http://go.philly.com/wipsteaks.
Macnow's most surprising conclusion: Overall, the Northeast has better cheesesteaks than South Philly. The unheralded Grey Lodge Pub was a particularly pleasant discovery, he said.
The Northeast tends to leave its beef sliced, instead of chopping it to bits, which is sometimes a way to cover up inferior meat, Macnow said.
What, no Pat's and Geno's?
Sorry, the touristy spots may show up in politician's photo ops, but they rarely rank high with locals.
Macnow ranked Geno's 35, Pat's a dismal 42.
LaBan remarked: "Neither titan ... came close to snaring the crown," preferring Tony Luke's among the big-name places.
WIP, known for Wing Bowl, is no stranger to eating contests. But Macnow's annual face-stuffing safaris have focused on quality, not quantity.
The Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge was his fourth quest for the best. Burger honors went to Rossi's Bar & Grill in Trenton. The ribs winner was Fat Jack's in Clementon. And, last year, the pizza crown went to Tacconelli's in Port Richmond.
Each time, Macnow's panels of celebrity judges confirmed his tasting-tour conclusions.
As for the gastronomic finer points of cheesesteak-chewing, Macnow says he sampled sandwiches with provolone, not Cheez Whiz or American.
"Good sharp provolone with a kick - I'll take that over cheese product any day of the week," he said.
Ketchup is another issue that gets some people seeing red, Macnow says. Good cheesesteaks don't need it, he says, but the bad ones do.
On Fox's Hell's Kitchen this week, Chef Gordon Ramsay barfed after eating a dish by a Philadelphia chef.
"I'm supersized but I did not throw up," said Macnow, who on Monday switches shifts at WIP, joining Anthony Gargano from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Macnow had mostly been working evenings and Saturday mornings.
He put on about seven pounds during his Great Cheesesteak Challenge, so he's thinking of creating some kind of fit club, where he and callers could lose weight together.
Another eyebrow-raiser concerns Slack's Hoagie Shack at No. 6, just making the final showdown.
Some of Macnow's Saturday morning shows have been broadcast from Slack's locations, an affiliation Macnow clearly discloses in his review.
"I think they deserve to be there. I think they're excellent," he said, adding that he has no personal endorsement deal with Slack's and that other shops on the list are also advertisers.
The panel of celebrity judges for the finale isn't quite set yet, Macnow said. But in the past he's had the likes of Le Bec-Fin chef Georges Perrier, Temple University basketball coach John Chaney, Eagles center Jamal Jackson and Flyers hall of fame goalie Bernie Parent.
The public is invited to watch and even sample during the finale, held at Paddy Whack's Irish Sports Pub at Second and South Streets.
Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or email@example.com.