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Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., Nov. 17
I finally stopped into this miniscule steak sandwich shop on University Avenue after passing by it almost daily for years. It is in an unappealing location where the streets are often filled with broken glass. The neighbors are a liquor store (owned by the same people) and a Mexican restaurant that Ed Bedford adores. Philly Grill looks kind of ratty, like it might be a hole in the wall or hidden gem if the food is good, but it's actually a bit more clean and polished than it looks in passing. The interior walls are painted to look like bricks, which is a little odd, but it's got an upright quality that's unexpected. I wanted to see Rocky posters on the wall, but alas.
The menu is pretty simple. Steak sandwiches (that can be made with chicken or veggies if one so desires) and side dishes like fries and onion rings (that can be loaded up with meat and cheese). There is also a small supply of Tasty Kake brand snack cakes--a company still headquartered in the City of Brotherly Love.
I tried a peperoni steak with Cheez Whiz. All the steaks are variations on the theme of steak+onions+cheese+other stuff. There is a chilli steak, a mushroom steak, a pizza steak with red sauce on it, etc. Cheese options are American, Swiss, Provolone, and Cheez Whiz. While it may be a spooky, highly processed "cheese food product," it's all about the Whiz. My steak contained cheese, meat, onions, and 'ronis in a soft hoagie roll. Not that I expect edible art from a sub shop, but the preparation on the sub was extremely sloppy. The steak had been loaded unevenly and the peperoni had been largely confined to one half of the sandwich. I used to make these things all the time when I was a kid and it's not that hard to spread the filling out. That said, the steak was cooked just right so that it hadn't been turned into involuntary jerky and the Cheez Whiz (while morally perverse) made for a gooey, delightful sandwich.
Pricing on the steaks is (roughly) $8 for a 9-inch sandwich and $10 for a foot-long. I had the nine, but it wasn't overly generous with the steak so a full-sized steak wouldn't have been out of the question while I was feeling hungry. Keep in mind that this isn't exactly health food and the 9" sandwich is actually a pretty reasonable portion. Not that "reasonable" is the optimum approach to eating Philly steaks....
I also had to wolf down a package of Tasty Kakes ($2) in order to complete the experience. Also, I can be a little pig sometimes. The dense cake, covered in a layer of chocolate fondant, seemed to my mind richer than the cake used in Hostess branded sweetmeats like Ding Dongs and whatnot. Pretty cool, for a once-in-a-while kind of experience.
I wouldn't quite label the Philly Grill a hidden treasure, a source of heavenly sandwiches trapped on a grungy stretch of road, but I also wouldn't consign it to iniquity. East Coast types who grew up eating lots of cheese steaks won't be too disappointed, except perhaps by the smallish sizes, and as an alternative to a carne asada burrito, Philly Grill's subs are a wholly valid option.
2041 University Avenue
Open daily 11-8