2021 March Cheesesteak Madness

Double the Historic Cheesesteak fun!

The Devil is in the Details Part 1, 2 & 3

The Origin of March Cheesesteak Madness and the Seeding process, the Judges and the Tournament.

This was the first time in cheesesteak bracket tournament history that judges ate every Cheesesteak in every match.  We love making history and we love getting everyone involved so we also had a People’s Bracket.  The People’s bracket was completed by online voting and hosted by PhillyBite Magazine.  We started with 64 Cheesesteaks in a bracket style tournament.  We ended with a People’s Champion and a Judge’s Champion.  

Part 1

The Origin of March Cheesesteak Madness and the Seeding process.

My name is Jim Pappas.  I have eaten 875 different cheesesteaks in the last 3 years.  I am on a Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure, My quest for the ultimate cheesesteak.  The Adventure began in May, 2018.  I had recently met my new best friend and we were looking for stuff to do.  Claymont Steaks held a special place in each of our hearts.  We decided we would go around trying different cheesesteaks.  I ride-share drive and started asking my riders about their favorite cheesesteak place.  Their passion for cheesesteaks came flying out of the back seat.  I knew this was more than something to do with my new best friend.  I gave it a name, Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure, built a website, www.philadelphiacheesesteakadventure.com, learned how to use social media and developed a 5 category 100 point scoring system to grade each cheesesteak.  I take pictures and video of every cheesesteak.  I have a spreadsheet that has the score, notes, amenities and physical location for every cheesesteak I have eaten.  All of this can be found on my website.

I have learned from talking to people about cheesesteaks that Philadelphians love to argue about ‘who has the best cheesesteak.’  March Cheesesteak Madness had to be done so we could stop arguing.  Or, add to the argument!  This was the 2nd Annual March Cheesesteak Madness.  It is a bracket style tournament that mirrors the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament.  March Cheesesteak Madness begins with 64 cheesesteaks seeded in 4 regions.  The regions are: 1. Philadelphia. 2. Delaware County. 3. NJ/DE. 4. The Other Philadelphia area counties (Chester, Montgomery, Bucks and Berks).  To ensure each region had an equal number of high scoring cheesesteaks, I sorted my cheesesteak spreadsheet by score and county (Philadelphia is also a county (NJ/DE is a collection of their counties)).  Each region had roughly 36 high scoring cheesesteaks.  From those 36 cheesesteaks came the 16 that represented their region in March Cheesesteak Madness.  

My scoring system has 5 categories; Roll, Meat, Cheese, Extras and Overall Experience.  20 points for each category totaling 100 points.  I usually order a cheesesteak with Fried Onions and Mushrooms.  I used to order Lettuce and Tomatoes to judge for freshness but have gotten away from that.  The overall experience category plays a bigger role in what cheesesteaks we like more than I thought it would.  When people tell me about their favorite cheesesteak, I always hear more about; my dad’s favorite spot, standing in line after a night out with friends, teammates and the back of mom’s station wagon, than the actual cheesesteak.  For the adventure, I eat most of the cheesesteaks after driving people around for several hours.   Places that are quiet, comfortable and have a bathroom may unintentionally get a few extra points.      

For 2022 March Cheesesteak Madness;

  1. The structure of the tournament;
    1. 64 City of Philadelphia cheesesteaks only
    2. 64 City of Philadelphia cheesesteaks in one bracket and a bracket 64 outside of Philadelphia cheesesteaks
    3. Current set-up.  City of Philadelphia in one region.  3 other regions different counties/NJ/DE
  2. Who gets in:
    1. List every cheesesteak place and top 64 vote getters get in
    2. Play-in tournaments.  Ie. Best of Gloucester County with the winner (or top 3) getting a seed in March Cheesesteak Madness.
    3. Current set-up

Part 2 – The Judges

The judges made a big gastronomic and time commitment to March Cheesesteak Madness. 64 cheesesteaks is a lot of cheesesteaks to eat especially when you are trying to eat them in a limited amount of time.  I was very happy that 9 people wanted to be judges.  After a few cheesesteaks each judge (and guest eaters) told me that they were surprised at how different each cheesesteak is.  They also said that they love going to the different places, meeting the people that make the cheesesteaks, learning their backstory and seeing what makes each cheesesteak different and special.  I tried to be supportive but I got a twisted joy when the Judges realized they had to judge the cheesesteaks and only one of their new best friend cheesesteaks got to move onto the next round.  “Favorite’ ‘best’ is very subjective and personal.  I like having the judges so every cheesesteak is eaten at the time of their match and there is a reason, someone’s personal reason, why one cheesesteak moves on to the next round.  

This year March Cheesesteak Madness had a Judge’s Bracket and a People’s Bracket.  For 2022 March Cheesesteak Madness, what would you like to see;

  1. One hybrid bracket; with a combination of judge’s and a people’s vote to choose a winner in each match.
  2. Don’t change anything.
  3. Just a people’s bracket.

Assuming there is a Judge’s Bracket, what would you like to see;

  1. At least three judges with one being an average joe/jane.
  2. At least three judges with cheesesteak shop owners from different regions judging.
  3. CeWebrities
  4. Average Joe/Janes.

We had a great group of judges that represented the cheesesteak eating universe very well; one had been a contestant on the TV show Chopped, one had been a contestant on Master Chef, we had several ceWebrities, an expert eater, a photographer and an intern (someone else’s intern).  The judges for the round of Sweet 16 through the Finals were our most seasoned (pun intended) judges; 1. Chef Mark ‘The Brain’ Twersky, Corporate Chef and subject matter expert. 2. Diane ‘The Hammer’ Farina, event Planner extraordinaire and our hardest grading judge. And 3. Amigo Dan, regular contributor on Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure and resident ‘Roll Snob.’  We have ‘meet the judges’ videos, for all 9 judges, on www.marchcheesesteakmadness.com and on our facebook page; March Cheesesteak Madness.

Part 3 – The Tournament

This was a history making tournament.  This was the first time in cheesesteak bracket tournament history that judges ate every Cheesesteak in every match.  Balancing fresh cheesesteaks and judges was a great logistical challenge.  We judged two rounds at a time.  For the 1st two rounds the judges drove to the different cheesesteak places.  Most of the cheesesteaks were eaten onsite and some were taken to a neutral location (that served beer).  The 3rd & 4th rounds, Sweet 16 & Elite 8 were eaten at a neutral location and the shop owners delivered their cheesesteak to that location.  The Final Four was held at a neutral location and the shop owners delivered their cheesesteak to that location.  I videoed the 1st two rounds on my iPhone7.  ABC’s Localish videoed the round of Sweet 16 through to the Championship match.  The Final Four cheesesteaks were being eaten and judged for the 3rd time.  Early in the tournament a comment on social media was that someone wished there were fresh made cheesesteaks in every round.  We were not able to accomplish that this year but consistency played a big part in naming this year’s Judge’s Champion.

For 2022 March Cheesesteak madness; what do you want to see;

  1. All 64 cheesesteaks in one spot with fresh cheesesteaks made for each round.
  2. Fresh cheesesteaks made for each round but the tournament is spread out over a longer period of time so judges can visit the spot.
  3. Don’t change a thing.

I get a lot of positive feedback from the cheesesteak shop owners on the People’s Bracket.  They like it because it gives them another reason to interact with their customers.  The People’s Bracket will stay the same unless I get a great idea how to improve it.

Something that is brought to my attention regularly is that when the tournament begins 63 cheesesteaks are not going to win.  Unfortunately that is the reality of a tournament.  I am glad with our regional seedings we are able to have 4 additional ‘winners’;  Best of Philadelphia, Best of Delaware County, Best of NJ/DE and Best of Other Counties.  

This was Parts 1, 2 & 3 of the Devil is in the Details.  Thank you for reading and please stay tuned for Part 4, The Philadelphia Region.

The Philadelphia Cheesesteak Adventure is my quest to find the Ultimate Cheesesteak and the tournament is designed to name a champion.  But, both are intended to celebrate all of the great  cheesesteaks and the wonderful people that toil behind hot grills to make them from us!  You can see videos of every contestant on the tournament’s website, www.marchcheesesteakmadness.com and/or the tournaments facebook page, March Cheesesteak Madness.

Drive to 1,000.  My name is Jim Pappas and I’ve eaten 875 different cheesesteaks as of today.  I want to get to 1,000 by the end of 2021.  I’m looking to have guest eaters join me.  Do you have a favorite spot I haven’t been to? Do you want to be a guest eater?   E-mail me; cheesesteakadventure@gmail.com