Q: Being a native New Yorker, there are certain foods I sorely miss: Good pizza and Chinese food. Also, if you know of any good Philly cheese steak places, please advise.
A: Sure, but let’s first spare a thought for those unlucky relocatees who crave Sonoran hot dogs like they sling them in Tucson, Ariz.; runzas like they bake them in Lincoln, Neb.; goetta like they fry it in Cincy; or ravioli like they toast it in St. Louis. I could go on, but you get the idea. There are regional specialties so scarce around here that the eaters who miss them don’t have the luxury of asking where to find a “good” version.
Philly-style cheesesteaks, by contrast, are everywhere. Yelp lists 68 independent restaurants in the Charleston area with cheesesteak on their menus, including three different places with “cheesesteak” in their names.
I haven’t come close to trying them all, in part because I’m perfectly happy with the $6.75 cheesesteak served on a proper Amoroso roll at A.C’s Bar & Grill. (There’s also Rodney Scott’s interpretation of his hometown’s favorite sandwich, which I maintain is one of the best things on the Rodney Scott’s BBQ menu. But my guess is you’re seeking something more traditional.)
I’m sure readers will have suggestions for renditions I’ve overlooked. In the meantime, I checked out a few of the cheesesteaks which regularly come up in discussions of the region’s best and it appears you may have to do some soul-searching before you settle on which venue is right for you.
In short, you can get Philadelphia ambiance or you can get an excellent sandwich, but you can’t get both at the same time.
The compromise solution is Philly’s in Summerville, which about a year ago moved to a new address. At the current location, its owners telegraph their South Philly roots through soft pretzels on the countertop and a wall display devoted to the sandwich’s history. Otherwise, though, the antiseptic dining room is fairly generic (and usually crowded.) And sadly, despite an impressive record of winning various popularity contests, the sandwich isn’t a standout either.
My take-out sandwich wasn’t helped by a tight swaddling of protective wrap, which created a steam bath that wilted the bread in the time it took me to walk out the door. But the under-seasoned meat would have been problematic even if I’d ordered the sandwich to stay. It’s not a bad cheesesteak but I’m not sure it’ll do much to cure your nostalgia.
By contrast, even though I’ve never lived in Philly, I felt the distance to the city shrink as soon as I stepped into Yous Guys on James Island. The shop has Utz potato chips arrayed on a Tastykake display rack, but any half-decent set designer could manage that. What feels legitimately of Philly is the Eagles memorabilia and a written announcement that Nick Foles’ name has been taken off Yous Guys’ cheesesteak (The quarterback signed with the Jaguars in March.)
Yet what’s perhaps most Philadelphian about the operation is its cheesesteak modesty. When I ordered the sandwich, the guy behind the counter threw in an Italian sub, which he told me was the restaurant’s best sandwich. It takes a tremendous amount of respect for the cheesesteak genre to acknowledge that one’s own version isn’t yet perfected. Honestly, I think this might be the place for you.
But if it’s quality you’re chasing, there are two other purveyors worth patronizing. Coincidentally or not, both are sandwich specialists, not full-fledged restaurants.
King Gyro and Subs is located in a drive-up hut in a parking lot along Dorchester Road. I don’t know too much about it because owner Mohsen Ayat didn’t return my phone or Facebook messages. But I know its thin-shaved beef has more flavor than two or three lesser cheesesteaks combined.
And then there’s Rocco’s Italian Sausage, which occupies a kind of shed in the West Ashley Home Depot parking lot. Chappy Chaplin, a veteran of high-end kitchens, has an exceptional knack for assembling cheesesteaks. The roll’s fresh, the meat’s tender and I bet if you wore a Sixers jersey you’d feel right at home amid the lawn furniture and construction equipment.