Govinda’s serves up a different kind of cheesesteak

Robin Heim

Philly cheesesteaks have been spotted around the country in major cities and some smaller towns in between. McDonalds even globally marketed their own take on the Philadelphia rite of passage.

I am not here to question the validity of steaks made outside of Philadelphia, or those conceived by a super-sized corporation. To be honest, I’ve tried neither.

All right, maybe I bought that thing at McDonalds that one time when it first came out because I live here.

Within Philadelphia city limits, though, are all cheesesteaks “authentic” Philly cheesesteaks? Is there ever a time when a Philly cheesesteak isn’t a cheesesteak?

Govinda’s Vegetarian Café and Gallery, on the corner of Broad and South streets, attracts many philosophical and political types who might ask, “Does a cow have to die for your cheesesteak?”

For many vegetarians, the soy plant is an acceptable meat alternative. Essential protein is extracted from the crushed beans and sold to supermarkets and restaurants in texturized soy molds.

Govinda’s, however, breaks the vegetarian restaurant mold by conceptualizing, among other things, stereotypical meat-lover’s foods.

Govinda’s proprietor and spiritual leader Hari says, “Not all vegetarians or vegans disagree with the taste or texture of meat. It is the needless slaughter of animals.”

Hari then, in 1985, saw a commercial outlet for his vegetarian interpretation. Hari knew that some vegetarians were not wholly satisfied with some of the Indian restaurants in the city, and their similar dishes or stagnant buffets.

Hari also thought that curry spice was overwhelming many westerners. Govinda’s is “east-meets-west, so to speak,” Hari says, adding, “We are unique with our blend of eastern spices and western presentation.”

Govinda’s is a great multicultural dining spot in Philadelphia. The chicken cheesesteak I ordered at Govinda’s was as good as any you’ll find anywhere. It was hot and deliciously flavored.

Govinda’s chefs are very talented, and they highly value their customers.

I specified mozzarella cheese instead of vegan cheese on mine. A non-vegetarian like myself can appreciate Govinda’s compromising on an essential part of my diet.

Because neither onions nor garlic can touch Govinda’s grill, my steak was instead flavored with the similar tasting spice asafetida.

The chef also worked in some black pepper, basil, oregano, liquid aminos and soy sauce. The steak is served on a whole wheat or sesame long roll. You cannot go wrong with either, but I’m told the wheat is something special.

The chicken cheesesteak and pepper and steak sandwich are two of Govinda’s most popular orders.

New customers might be surprised to see burgers, lasagna, quesadillas and shrimp with rice on the menu too.

All customers know that no “sentient creatures” were harmed in the preparation process.

Govinda’s offers excellent drinks. I had a clementine-flavored Izze. This is a 100 percent organic soda. I’ve also had the blackberry and pear flavors.

This brand is both healthy and refreshing. Non-dairy smoothies are another option here. Govinda’s has a rewarding selection of exotic hot teas too.

The downstairs at Govinda’s functions and looks like a ’50s-era cheesesteak place. Did I mention there is vegan cheesecake too? You can eat at tables, order for takeout or gather al-fresco.

There are some beautiful paintings on display. The upstairs is open Thursday to Sunday and features a buffet. Hari says the customers are his motivating factor and has never had to advertise because of word-of-mouth.

Govinda’s surround-sound system is boosted by some of these customers. Hari sees Hub from the Villanova-visiting Roots daily, as well as Philly soul singers, local reggae label owners, music promoters and DJs.

Govinda’s is in the process of finally expanding next door. The menu will be broadened further with extra wraps and soymilk smoothies; there will be a permanent buffet; and a newly hired chef will handle raw foods.

Govinda’s is also going to serve breakfast foods like pancakes, waffles, eggs, sausage and home fries.

Those who can’t eat meat for religious, medical, or ethical reasons rate Govinda’s highly. I recommend it to any Villanova student looking to expand his/her horizons.