Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 18
Tour de Cheesesteak: stage 7
"I'll have the cheesesteak...with the works...and a hooker on the side."
I won’t mince words, Ultimate Philley’s looked like a shithole.
It’s on the “wrong” side of the 805, in the no man’s land between that and the 15, and it almost looks like a pawn shop or a sketchy cell phone store for drug dealers. The combination of decoration and location is more The Wire, than Food Network, a fact accentuated by the misspelled name of the store, neither “philly” nor “phillies.” Also, why the possessive? Maybe the place is owned by a Phillip “Philley Boy” Gutierrez, or some such character. There was even this weird, gigantic sandwich wrapped in plastic and suspended over the door on the "grand opening" sign. I climbed up, poked and prodded at it, and I think it was real food that had been allowed to desiccate. Weird.
It was cramped inside--my friend said there was “too much going on’’--with a handful of friendly, albeit bewildered, employees behind the counter and just enough space to turn around in the minute dining area. Much better to occupy the lone table outside, even though at least one prostitute is likely to cruise by with an affectionate greeting and a suggestive look.
At $8.99, the 12” “ultimate philley ribeye” came with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and my choice of mozz or Whiz. It was, without question, the ugliest sandwich I’ve been served on the Tour. It made the Philly Grill’s haphazard sandwich construction look artful. The meat exploded out of the squashed and toasted bread in all directions. The Whiz ran over everything and it was impossible to eat without enlisting a fork.
But it was pretty good! I managed to get my hands on a few hot peppers to go with it. There was tons of savory, well-seasoned meat and veggies inside. It looked like crap and it was a trial to consume, but I finally got the overabundance of greasy, cheezy, salty, shaved steak that I’d been looking for. I daresay the cracked out ambiance actually added a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole experience.
The $5.99, 8” version would have been nourishment enough, so Ultimate Philley’s has value on its side. Anyone who hates cheesesteak (why are you reading this?) should totally get the $3.99 all-day breakfast special that has eggs, pancakes, toast, and bacon. Eating pancakes after dark on a sketchy city sidewalk would be poetic.
3383 El Cajon Boulevard