We ate the Pool Room’s new cheesesteak

The Pool Room, one of our local culinary institutions, recently added an item to its menu: a Philly cheesesteak. We steeled our stomachs and gave it a try.

The Philly cheesesteak in question

When one thinks of local institutions averse to change, Montreal Pool Room might not be Wilensky’s, but it’s up there.

When they were forced to move across the street after a lengthy holdout, it was a major shock to the system for anyone used to the worn foot grooves on the ordering spot at the old lower Main location. For most, that apprehension has long subsided. During this summer’s festival season, more often than not I found myself at the century-old eatery for a quick steamé.

But about four months ago, a new item quietly crept onto the menu — a seismic shift for a place synonymous with steamés, burgers and fries. Since debuting as menu item number 14, the mysterious Philly cheesesteak has been a source of intrigue for me and many of my fellow regulars. So this week, during the lunchtime rush, after much soul searching, I tried it.

The recognizable faces behind the counter didn’t bat an eyelash when I ordered one, but later conceded the cheesesteak (which goes for $6) hasn’t caught on with skeptical locals (American tourists enjoy them, they told me).

There are directions on how to order one, posted at the front window, boasting a multitude of fixins to choose from (onions, mushrooms) as well as two cheeses: Cheez Whiz or provolone. At no point during the making of my sandwich did they ask me what I wanted on it, but there was no doubt they had piled on the onions and actual cheese (the cashier did mutter a question my way, but I gave my usual response of “black cherry”). The meat is crumbly and razor thin, and grilled on the same surface as the burgers.

The cheesesteak is perhaps a little shorter in length than your standard Subway sub. The grilled onions largely overpowered the sandwich, making it a less-than-ideal order if you have important social responsibilities afterwards. The sandwich isn’t too greasy, and the bread is grilled, soft, unassuming and keeps the meat neatly in place. It looks big when they present it to you, wrapped in foil, but it’s not all that filling, so don’t be dissuaded from getting fries with it.

Given it’s a new item on Pool Room’s reliable menu, I perhaps conned myself into believing the sandwich would be of monumental importance. Ultimately, it’s just a fairly good sandwich, one that probably won’t displace a steamé trio anytime soon. ■

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