and until today, no one has delivered.
In addition to our friends, one of the things we miss the most about Philadelphia is the availability of really good cheesesteaks. Yeah, we have tried some places that allege to serve authentic Philly Cheesesteaks, but all have fallen short of the mark. There was the place outside of Phoenix than flies in shaved rib eye; there was the place in Tucson run by a transplant from Philadelphia; and there was the place in Salt Lake City run by a cousin of famed Philadelphia cheesesteak guru Tony Luke. They served a good sandwich but something was always missing.
Then someone (we suspect it was Mike Lieng at the Red Lotus, but we aren’t sure) told Chuck about Gaglione Brothers Famous Steaks and Subs. “…the tight-knit brothers: Joe, Andy, and Tony Gaglione have called San Diego home for many years. After one of many trips to the East coast to visit their father and huge extended Italian family and after many treks to the neighborhood eateries of Buffalo, NY, the brothers returned to San Diego with a craving for the authentic family style cheesesteak and hoagie shop. Unfortunately, offerings in the city were slim.
“In order to fill the void and also to satisfy their own cravings, in 2003, the Gaglione Brothers decided it was time to bring the very best cheesesteaks and subs to Southern California.
“Motivated by what a quality, superbly tasting sandwich should be, the brothers began cooking, testing and creating sub and menu items in older brother Joe’s kitchen in Pacific Beach. Once the three agreed on the menu, they broke ground in 2004 on their first location in Point Loma. Feeling confident that they had created a recipe for success with an authentic neighborhood sandwich shop, the brothers decided to open their second location the following year in Mission Beach. A third location, in the Friars Village Shopping Center, opened in July 2010” (from the restaurant’s web site).
The first clue that this wouldn’t be a Faux Philly spot was learning that Gaglione’s has their rolls shipped to San Diego from Philadelphia. To be specific, these are Amoroso rolls, and they have the requisite degree of “chew,” the requisite degree of soft to absorb all the meat juices, and the requisite degree of body (they don’t fall apart when met by said juices). Chuck describes this as the roll cradling the meat and cheese.
The second clue that this wouldn’t be a Faux Philly spot was, when walking through the doors, hearing the music of twin metal turners hitting the flattop while the cook (Cesar) chopped and shredded the meat for the cheesesteaks.
This place even looks authentic—like every suburban steak shop in the five county Philadelphia region where you order at the counter and wait until your name is called. Beverages are self-served, and next to the soda machine is the pepper lover’s fondest wish—an array of eight kinds of peppers that includes mild cherry peppers, hot cherry peppers, jalapeno peppers, sweet banana peppers, peperoncini, and giardiniera. There is seating for about twenty-five inside and another eight or so outside on the sidewalk.
While we were there for the cheese-steaks, they are not all that’s on the menu. “Some of the most popular menu items are tributes to the brothers’ family members. ‘The Turk,’ a tribute to their late father and a holiday-inspired treat served year round that includes fresh baked turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and mayonnaise. ‘The General,’ named after the brothers’ Italian Grandmother, features thinly sliced hot pastrami, melted Swiss cheese, homemade Russian dressing and fresh coleslaw. The newest menu item, ‘The Father Joe,’ a meatball sandwich dedicated to their Catholic priest uncle, uses the meatball recipe that has been in the Gaglione family for generations” (from the restaurant’s web site).
The steak sandwiches (chicken is also available) can be ordered in eight, twelve, or eighteen inch sizes and include your basic cheesesteak (American cheese), a cheesesteak hoagie, a Cheez Whiz steak, a mushroom cheesesteak, a Baja cheesesteak (with jalapenos), a pepper steak, a pizza steak, and the Works with mushrooms and cherry peppers.
For Chuck, it would be the basic with no onions.
For me, the pizza steak with onions which I enhanced with hot peppers and peperoncini from the pepper bar.
And now for the third clue that this was no Faux Philly—the paper that wrapped the steak sandwiches bore evidence of grease. Not nasty grease. The kind of grease that comes from real marbled beef.
When Chuck returned with the order, he muttered something about "perfec-tion," but before I could say, "Perfec-tion?" or "Don't forget the photo," he grabbed a bite out of the sandwich and just smiled.
While chewing and smiling, he began taking the food photos. While this was happening, the party seated next to us asked if we were eating at Gaglione’s for the first time and were we from San Diego. When I replied that this was in fact our first visit and that we had lived in the Philadelphia suburbs for nearly forty years, they were curious as to how the sandwich compared. I took a bite. I took another bite. I raised my eyes to heaven and proclaimed: “They’ve done it. They have it just right.”
Tender and gristle-free meat. Chewy roll. Pizza sauce that enhances the meat rather than obscures it. And, one of Chuck’s main criteria for a good cheese-steak, the cheese melts into the meat and bathes every morsel. No Faux Philly here. This is the real thing. So all of you Philadelphia exiles, head to Gaglione Brothers (10450 Friars Rd. #B, San Diego) for a taste of a real 5.0 Addie Philadelphia cheesesteak.
Just outside the restaurant, we met Tony Gaglione. As we praised the steps along the way that produced the outstanding sandwiches, he graciously accepted our compliments and credited his staff, especially Cesar on the flattop, for preparing consistently good sandwiches.
The Brothers will be around a long time.