I grew up in a predominately Mennonite community on the northern outskirts of Philadelphia. Currently, it is one large metropolis from the center of Philly to my hometown of Souderton, PA. When I was growing up, however, Souderton/Telford were two small communities surrounded by lush farmland with Philadelphia being the large city an hour’s train ride away.
Point is: I know what a Philly Cheesesteak is. Yes, I am now a vegetarian. But I was a carnivore when I grew up and I know a good Philly Cheesesteak. I have eaten at Geno’s and Pat’s. I have dined (ha!) at the Melrose Diner. I even know good Shoo Fly Pie, Funny Cake and what Pon Haus is (more commonly referred to as Scrapple!) Alas, I digress. Today we are focused on cheesesteak.
To begin, those of you unfamiliar with Philly lingo will need to know a few definitions. (If you are from Philly, you can skip this part):
Hoagie–An un-initiated person will see a hoagie and refer to it as a sub, submarine, wedge, zep, torpedo, hero or grinder. If you are from Philly, you will instantly recognize a hoagie as something beyond these inferior copycats.
Amoroso Roll–The first thing that makes a hoagie a hoagie is that it is made on an authentic, hearth baked Amoroso roll. These soft, moist, Italian hoagie rolls with a brushing of grainy cornmeal are what set any hoagie or cheesesteak apart from an ordinary “sandwich.” They are made in Philadelphia. Don’t bother to look for them anywhere else.
Cheesesteak–A specific kind of hoagie made with chopped steak and whiz. Okay, you can add onions, mushrooms, even tomatoes and lettuce if you like, but you can’t have an authentic cheesesteak with something as coarse as cheddar cheese. Remember, we’re talking authentic Philly here, “Yo!”
Whiz–Yes, this refers to a variation of cheese whiz and is (believe it or not) the only acceptable alternative for adding cheese to your cheesesteak. Okay, okay, you can get provolone (only if it is particularly sharp) or some other provincial variation, but you should get whiz. I’m telling mom if you don’t. Don’t make the mistake John Kerry made during his presidential campaign in 2003. He asked for swiss cheese on his cheesesteak order. Said one local Philadelphia food critic, “In Philadelphia, that’s an alternative lifestyle!”
Birch Beer–This unique soda can only be found in or near Southeastern Pennsylvania or perhaps imported into the finest (ha!) dinning establishments or corner stores around the world. It is similar to root beer, but with a slightly sweeter and more eloquent taste. In Mennonite communities, alcohol was forboden so the local beverage distributor had kegs of birch beer for sale. When Mrs. LanceAround and I got married near her hometown of Roanoke, VA, my mother and father brought a keg of birch beer to serve guests at the wedding. I thought we were providing our guests with a delicious and serendipitously unique libation experience that they would fondly recall for years to come. I later discovered that when the keg would spout out a soda pop, most of our guests (from Virginia, that is) felt cheated. My family members and friends from SE Pennsylvania understood!
Soft Pretzels–Sorry, if you have ever eaten a “soft pretzel” from Aunt So-and-So’s booth at your local mall, you have never had a REAL soft pretzel. An authentic Philly soft pretzel can only be purchased on a street corner in Philly, served by an un-bathed Filth-a-delphian who doesn’t use a glove (or any other kind of sanitary activity) and who grabs a stack of at least four pretzels squished together from a brown paper bag on the side of the road where they have had ample time to accumulate the peculiar dust and grime of back Philly roads that enhances their unique flavor. Feel free to smother them with yellow mustard. Forget the dijon and if anyone asks for Grey Poupon I believe the correct response is to hit them.
Tastykake–Another Philly tradition that will look surprisingly similar to a “Hostess” or “Little Debbie” to the un-initiated. Yet, as their ad says, “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake!”
Shoo Fly Pie, Funny Cake, Pon Haus, Scrapple, Fausnaught–Well, these have more to do with my Anabaptist (i.e. Mennonite)/Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and less to do with Philly. We’ll talk about this in a different blog…
Anyway, when I read an article in the Orlando Weekly suggesting that there is a restaurant in Orlando that provides an authentic Philly Cheesesteak experience, I was (to say the least) skeptical. I have been disappointed many times before by places claiming to have authentic Philly Cheesesteaks. So Number One Son and I made the hour long trip from my home near Disney World to the Avalon Park community on the eastern end of Orlando to Brianto’s Original Hoagies Restaurant.
Upon entering the establishment, we noticed a sign proclaiming that they served genuine Amoroso rolls. Wow! Good start. As mentioned above, there is no such thing as a hoagie or cheesesteak that is served on something other than an Amoroso roll. I asked the owner if he would mind cleaning his grill and then frying me some mushrooms and onions and putting them in a roll for me. He did so (after giving me a quizzical look) and I was pleasantly surprised by how good it tasted. I also ordered a soft pretzel and was dismayed to discover that these were not authentic Philly pretzels. Don’t buy them. (They didn’t have any grime on them.)
The following week, I took my carnivorous friend, Karen, (who also happens to be our Number One Daughter’s Montessori Teacher) and Mrs. LanceAround back to Brianto’s to get their opinion of the cheesesteak. This was Karen’s first cheesesteak. This time I brought along some vegetarian meat alternative. The owner was nice enough to clean the grill again and make a vegetarian cheesesteak for Mrs. LanceAround and I. I became slightly inattentive when Karen ordered the “provolone” option for her cheesesteak, but I quickly caught her error and insisted that she switch to “whiz.” The result: Karen proclaims that the cheesesteak was delicious! In addition, Karen experienced her first Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykake and her first Hank’s Birch Beer. What a treat! All this at low Philly Hoagie prices.
The bottom line–A huge thumbs up for Brianto’s Original Hoagies Restaurant. In addition to the cheesesteaks, Hank’s soda and Tastykake, they also serve salads, hoagies, grilled cheese, hot dogs, hot hoagies, tortellini salads, fruit cup, garlic bread and Herr’s potato chips (another Philly tradition.) Hoagies can be 6, 12 or a man-sized 18 inches. Prices range from $4.49 for some of the 6″ (which will fill you up) to $12.99 for some of the 18″ (which will fill you up till Tuesday.)
Get an 18″ and take the extra home for a next day treat.
Brianto’s Original Hoagies
12001 Avalon Lake Drive
Orlando, FL 32828
Open 11:00am to 10:00pm