The biggest disappointment of Steve Carllucci's life might've been when the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl championship and his new location for Philly's of Summerville was still being readied.
"We were so mad about not being open when the Eagles won," he says.
"Our Facebook blew up," adds his son Stefan, the third generation to work at Philly's.
But when they finally reopened in March after moving to a new and better space in the same strip mall in Summerville, Philly's fans returned in full force. "We weren't prepared," says the senior Carllucci. "We ran out of bread every single day."
Philly's of Summerville customers are about as rabid and dedicated as typical Eagles fans. They come from all over the Lowcountry for a steak sandwich as authentic as they can get back up north.
And you know it's authentic when the owner of the business spends most of his time talking to you about the bread. "The major components are meat, cheese and bread," says Carllucci, which means they all have to be the best quality, but finding good bread has been a decades-long challenge.
The first Philly's was opened by Carllucci's father in 1982 in Goose Creek. The entire family moved down from Philadelphia, including 23-year-old Steve and his two sisters. They had owned restaurants there, but the cold weather and their father's health made them move south. They decided to open Philly's and "bring something they didn't have down here," says Carllucci.
Back then they contracted with Kroger to make the bread. "We couldn't find rolls," he says. "It's been the bane of my existence. ... The meat is perfect, but the roll is always my issue."
Pat's King of Steaks in Philadelphia is credited with creating the steak sandwich in 1930 when Pat Olivieri, a hot dog vendor, handed his brother some change to buy some thinly sliced steak. According to Carolyn Wyman in "The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book," "Harry got the steak and Pat fried it up on his hot dog grill with some diced onions he had on hand, put it on a hot dog bun." And then before he could take a bite, a regular customer asked what it was and how much it cost. Pat sold it right then and there and the steak sandwich was born. Cheese didn't come until later.
"Whiz wasn't even invented back then," says Carllucci, who uses provolone or American cheese on his steaks. "American is the most popular. It's the texture that it adds. It's gooey and perfect."
The meat they use is sirloin. "We used to slice it ourselves but it's too labor intensive," he says. "It's shaved for us. They don't like doing it, but they do it for us because of the volume." They've been getting their meat from the same supplier in Philadelphia since 1982.
But the bread, that's another story. They begged Kroger to make it, but they stopped because it was too much volume. They've been having their rolls made locally, but Carllucci says it's a steep learning curve and everything can affect the final product from the water to the humidity. It took them four years to perfect the roll they're currently using.
Last year on a trip to Philadelphia he persuaded a bakery that supplies six out of the top 10 steak sandwich joints to make bread for Philly's of Summerville. "I need a bread supplier so we can franchise. It has to be consistent."
It also can't be soft and must stay hinged and not fall apart when the cheese and grease melts into it. And it has to have the right flavor.
The meat can't be dry either. When training cooks, Carllucci has them make a steak with no onions, because if they can keep it moist without onions, they have figured out the right way to cook it. "Timing is everything. Thirty seconds makes the difference between a dry steak and a good steak."
And good steaks are the specialty of the house at Philly's. They do not skimp on the meat, cheese or onions and the bread is perfect. Soft enough to bite into but substantial enough to contain the slivers of meat and the dripping cheese and grease. If you're craving a cheesesteak, it's worth a drive to Summerville to indulge in the best in the area, hands down.