Matthew Lickona 12:01 p.m., Dec. 7
"I was standing in a shower when it came to me," says Brian McGonagle, "I just knew this was what I wanted to do."
McGonagle was 27. He had just come out of eight years in the Marines. Two tours in Iraq. Wondering what to do with the rest of his life.
"I'm from Philly. Irish family. I called up my brother David and our friend Marc. 'Let's open a Philly cheesesteak place.' That was two years ago."
They set up here (McGonagle's, 1231 Highland Avenue, between 12th street and Nordica Avenue, National City, 619-259-2777), right across from the Walmart.
Kyle, lady from Philly herself and a regular, is in the line ahead of me.
"The pizza cheesesteak ($6.25 for the 6-inch, $9.50 for the 12-inch -- prices include tax) is my favorite," she says. "But these gentlemen make the real deal. I'm in here all the time. And yes, they fly their buns in from Amoroso's bakery in Philly."
Regular customers Kyle and Brian
Basic cheesesteak sandwich has steak, grilled onions, whiz cheese. I order the McG ($6.25, $9.50). It's Brian's invention. Basically the cheesesteak plus egg added, with three cheeses and buffalo sauce. It's messy, cheesy, marinated, marvelous.
And quite a change from the Filipino and Mexican fare that you find more than anything else around here.
Oh, and if you're up to it, they have a permanent contest going...
"Sixty people have tried it," says Brian. "Five have done it. But three were professional hot dog eaters practicing. One guy, must've been 4-11, skinny little guy, downed all three in 11 minutes."