Regional American Finds: Large Marge's Nails the Philly Cheesesteak

Regional American Finds: Large Marge's Nails the Philly Cheesesteak
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If you’re like me and love a piping hot Philly cheesesteak sandwich, you'll get a true taste of Philadelphia fare at Large Marge’s, 3890 Kipling Street in Wheat Ridge. If you’ve never had an authentic cheesesteak, you’re in for a treat. The first time I tasted this sandwich, I was blown away, because I could not figure out what kind of voodoo made it so good. Turns out there is no voodoo — just an inspired combination of ingredients and cooking methods that has stood the test of time for nearly a hundred years.

Traditionally, the sandwich starts with rib-eye steak sliced super-thin and grilled on a griddle with a little oil, onions and perhaps peppers. The cook chops the steak with dueling spatulas as the meat sizzles, and then, when it’s just about done, piles it up and covers it with slices of cheese. A split roll is then placed on top, and the cook scoops the whole thing up and inverts it so that the sandwich lands right side up. The cheesesteak gets wrapped in foil-lined paper so that the heat, moisture and flavor from the steak works magic on the bread, and the cheese infuses into the meat.

The Philly cheesesteak is nearly ubiquitous in bars and casual eateries these days, but most versions are disappointing (especially to Philadelphia natives); the sandwich is easy to get wrong and takes a fair amount of craftsmanship — to say nothing of the right ingredients — to get right. So it’s a happy day when you find a place that makes cheesesteaks just the way you love and remember them.

In my culinary travels, I visited South Philly to see for myself what all the fuss was about. Stops Included the iconic Tony Luke’s and the scene of the hard-core rivalry between Pat’s and Geno’s (which are right across the street from each other). My favorite was Pat’s, by a slim margin over Geno’s. I opt for American cheese, and I like my sandwich “wit'” onions — as well as mushrooms and sweet peppers.

Perhaps I’m too easily amused, but whenever I meet someone from Philly, I always ask them how they like their cheesesteak. The arguments about what constitutes an “authentic” cheesesteak are the stuff of legend — mainly revolving around the cheese (American, provolone and Cheez Whiz being the top three contenders).

Large Marge’s was originally opened in 2007 by South Philly transplant Margie Brown, who felt like she had to open a place of her own in order to get the kind of authentic cheesesteak sandwich she craved. The shop is now owned and operated by best friends Brett Carson and Tyler Johnson, who took it over in 2012.

Large Marge's owners Brett Carson (left) and Tyler Johnson in front of the restaurant they've owned since 2012.EXPAND
Large Marge's owners Brett Carson (left) and Tyler Johnson in front of the restaurant they've owned since 2012.
Ken Holloway

Carson and Johnson are Colorado natives and bandmates who'd often stop at Large Marge’s on the way to rehearsals. Once they got to know Brown, they explain, she wanted to sell the restaurant to them, and made them an offer they couldn't refuse. Brown has since relocated to Florida, but the three stay in touch, and the owners say that she is happy for their continued success.

After Carson and Johnson bought Large Marge's, they did what many others do when starting out as restaurant owners: They worked their butts off seven days a week for years. The first order of business was dialing in the restaurant operations by ensuring consistency, quality control and customer satisfaction. It was well over a year before they hired their first employee, but thanks to continued expansion of their customer base, they now have eight.

Growth has also included a massive expansion of the restaurant as well as a growing presence in the community. The staffers at Large Marge’s proudly serve many fairs, festivals and other events in Wheat Ridge and beyond; they are also a big hit at the annual Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota, and have catered events as large as 1,500 people. And thanks to good friends at the Denver ChopHouse & Brewery, Large Marge’s is enjoying its third season of offering fantastic sandwiches in front of the restaurant during Rockies home games; look for the big yellow canopy on Wynkoop Street between 19th and 20th streets.

Large Marge’s has an extensive menu, but will also make a sandwich to satisfy specific customer requests. In addition to sandwiches, appetizers and desserts, you’ll find treats that you can't find just anywhere — like Tastykakes, a Philadelphia favorite.

The Large Marge's stand sets up in front of the Denver ChopHouse during Rockies home games.EXPAND
The Large Marge's stand sets up in front of the Denver ChopHouse during Rockies home games.
Large Marge's

Large Marge’s is the home of the original “Poo Sauce” — a tangy cayenne-pepper sauce — that serves as the base for four other sauces, the last of which is so hot you have to be a real chile-head to try it. Carson and Johnson also offer a variety of seasoning blends so that you can put your own whammy on everything from onion rings and fried zucchini to kettle chips and fried pickles. The spicy ketchup rocks, too, especially on fries that receive as much attention as the cheesesteaks. There are also dipping sauces in spicy ranch and white-cheese flavors. Pickled sweet peppers are popular on cheesesteak sandwiches, too, and the owners of Large Marge’s have developed their own housemade recipe, which brightens up the richness of the savory meat and gooey cheese.

These guys take pride in pleasing all of their customers, but they find it particularly gratifying when some hard-core denizen of South Philly rolls in with an attitude and rolls out with a smile. Splashed with patriotic red, white and blue and pulsing with music, the restaurant captures the spirit of Philadelphia and its famous sandwich. If Large Marge's were a stock, I’d rate it a screaming buy.

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