The Schmitter. Philadelphia’s big league sandwich. Or something like that. In fact, the Schmitter is a variation on the famous Philly cheesesteak. It was created at McNally’s Tavern for a regular guest, who drank nothing but Schmitt beer.
I’ve never had Schmitt beer, but when Anne McNally found out that my last name was Schmidt (close enough) she organized me an honorary Schmitter sandwich t-shirt right away.
The Schmitter is awesome and all the hype is well deserved. It’s a cheesesteak with grilled salami that is served on a Kaizer Roll with a “secret sauce”. Reading about it, that combination didn’t immediately make sense to me, but as with all great sandwiches, the sum is bigger than its parts. It all comes together beautifully.
But even without the Schmitter, McNally’s would be worth the visit. Run by Anne McNally, the grand-daughter of the original founder, everything about it feels exactly right. It’s one of those place that knows what it is, and doesn’t want to be anything else. It’s good and simple food, well prepared, at reasonably prices. It’s full of history, but also always changing and a real part of the local community. Everyone in the place seems to know each other and there is a friendly banter going on between the bar and the dining room, with Anne floating from table to table, cracking a joke or telling a story about her restaurant.
In the early 20th century the Philadelphia trolley (street car) ran all the way out to Chestnut Hill where McNally’s is still located today. Anne’s grand-father worked for the street car and complained that at the end of his work day he could never find decent food. So Anne’s grand-mother set out to do something about that and started serving sandwiches and small dishes out of a little shack called the “Quick Lunch”. Business was good and eventually grew into the restaurant that is still located just across the street from the original shack today.
Anne McNally took over the restaurant a few years ago (maybe a little surprising given that she has three brothers, two of whom are chefs) and when you see her talking about the Tavern and chatting with patrons you understand why. You can’t imagine anyone doing a better job at keeping the tradition alive, and having a great time doing it.
The Schmitter gets all the attention, but the carrot cake deserves some, too. It’s home baked (and at McNally’s “home-baked” is not just a marketing slogan). Each day at 4am Anne’s sister checks her voice mail to find out how many cakes are left at the Tavern and then bakes more chocolate or carrot cakes for the day. I didn’t get to try the chocolate cake, but managed to squeeze in a slice of carrot cake on top of the Schmitter. It was worth it. Despite the fact that it comes without nuts or raisins (I usually prefer it with) it was exactly what a carrot cake should be - perfect balance between moist and dry, with a generous but not overwhelming layer of frosting. Kira (from John and Kira’s chocolates) says that John and their son are on the quest for the best carrot cake in Philadelphia, and McNally’s is the front-runner. There you have it.