Anthony Bourdain's Favorite Cheesesteak Wasn't From Philly

When it comes to Philadelphia icons, few meals will conjure up mental images of Rocky Balboa and nights at Eagles' games quite like a Philly cheesesteak. Dripping with melty provolone or synthetic Cheez Whiz and bursting at the seams with caramelized onions and juicy ribeye steak strips, this sandwich has become a classic all along the East Coast. In fact, so well-loved have these meals become that Philadelphia may no longer be home to the best Philly cheesesteak. According to Anthony Bourdain, the best cheesesteak may actually come from a place called Donkey's Place, located in New Jersey. 

In his show "Parts Unknown" on CNN, Bourdain claimed that the cheesesteaks at this modest establishment are bigger and better than their classic counterparts in Center City Philadelphia. And it's not just the celebrity chef, either: The New York Post also listed Donkey's cheesesteak in a roundup of the 15 best sandwiches in the U.S. in 2017.

What makes the Donkey's Place cheesesteak so good?

The most noticeable difference between a Donkey's Place cheesesteak and the iconic Philadelphia sandwiches you'll find across the river is the bread. A traditional cheesesteak is served on a long, hoagie-style roll. However, at Donkey's, it's served up on a poppyseed Kaiser bun, a distinctly nutty bread. If you pair its flavor profile with the seeds, you get a unique twist on the traditional white bread sub found in a classic Philly cheesesteak.

On top of that, Donkey's meal swaps the typical Cheez Whiz or Provolone for American cheese. This is a creamy, salty topping with a low melting point, which means you get extra gooeyness in your sandwich. Plus, it has a hint of the sharp flavor of cheddar, which can add a tangy note to your sandwich that a regular provolone just won't give you; a combination Anthony Bourdain described as, "Unbelievably good."

Other than that, the sandwich stays true to its inspiration, featuring sizzled flank steak and caramelized onions. You can also add a bit of hot pepper relish if you want to add more bite to your sandwich and veer even further from the salty, hearty, classic meal.

How did Donkey's Place get started, anyway?

Located in Camden, New Jersey, Donkey's Place has been operating since 1943. The founder was a former amateur light-heavyweight boxing champion, Leon Lucas, who participated in the 1928 Summer Olympics. Back in his heyday, the athlete was known as the "Donkey" for the strength of his punches. Drawing on his nickname, he called the establishment Donkey's Place. The restaurant became a family business and, under his ownership, was known for its unique way of preparing a classic Philly Cheesesteak recipe. It's also a fun, eclectic space full of a hodgepodge of vintage nick-nacks that pay homage to a bygone era.

After Leon passed away, the boxer's son, Bob, took over running the business, and after Bob, his grandson, Rob, took the helm. Thanks, in part, to Anthony Bourdain highlighting the establishment, business is still booming, and it seems that Donkey's Place may remain a family legacy for many more years to come.