By Frank Sabatini Jr.
I have a couple of solid benchmarks from which to judge cheesesteak sandwiches: Geno’s and Tony Luke’s, two Philadelphia-based eateries where I’ve gobbled down the iconic sandwich in its luscious authenticity.
With a commendable dose of brotherly love, Gaglione Brothers in Grantville (and Loma Portal) scores high on all of the vital criterion, starting with its use of rolls shipped in a few times a week from Philadelphia’s famed Amoroso’s Baking Company.
We’re talking architecturally wondrous submarine rolls that are chewy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and with a light dusting of cornmeal on their underbellies.
The other important standard achieved here is the quality of beef. If it isn’t well-marbled rib eye chipped down to an ideal thinness with the edge of a cook’s metal spatula, then it isn’t a classic cheesesteak.
Just like in Philly, patrons are expected to indicate right off the bat whether they want grilled onions on their sandwich, which is available in 9-, 12- and 18-inch lengths. (I prefer no onions but with sweet and hot cherry peppers.)
And then there’s the cheese option, a coronation of waxy, yellow Cheez Whiz or creamier white American (my fave) or stringier and less melty provolone. Whatever you choose, you’re consuming a wickedly savory invention that started in south Philadelphia in the 1930s and has remained pretty much unchanged, with the exception of chicken as a modern, healthier option instead of beef.
The Gaglione brothers — Joe, Andy and Tony — aren’t from Philly. But they developed a love for cheesesteaks and other hoagie sandwiches when visiting family members in the Northeast, and started slinging them locally nearly 15 years ago when launching the eatery in Loma Portal.
Their Grantville location in the Friars Village shopping center opened in 2010 and it’s the only location of the two that serves craft beer on draft and in bottles and cans. It also offers a little more seating in comparison.
In a couple of recent visits, when I wasn’t quite so desperate for a cheesesteak, I tried “the turk” and “Father Joe” — two sub sandwiches made also with Amoroso rolls.
The former features a generous piling of real honest-to-goodness turkey roasted in-house. It’s layered over house-made stuffing and cranberry sauce. Mayo is in there too, but I couldn’t detect any. So I hydrated the sandwich a bit more by squirting some olive oil and vinegar into it at the condiment bar — and all was good.
Soft, herby tasting meatballs topped with bright marinara sauce, provolone cheese and fresh parsley comprised the Father Joe, a construct that affirms the brothers’ Italian back-East roots — and appeased mine upon first bite.
Other sandwich options include Buffalo-style chicken, chicken Parmesan, a turkey club, and the “Sophia Loren” with capicolla, Genoa salami, pepperoni, provolone and veggie garnishments.
Medium-cut fries served with a variety of toppings are the co-stars to these rich and tasty sandwiches. You can have them smothered in Cheez Whiz, jalapenos, steak or aggressive measures of garlic.
After twice ordering them with both Cheez Whiz and jalapenos, I came to realize the garlic version is not only the tastier choice, but they spare you about 100 extra milligrams of cholesterol that you don’t need when stuffing your face with a genuine, unctuous cheesesteak.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com.