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Restaurants

I Went to Philly

Posted by Alexandra Grigorescu / Listed on October 12, 2012 / review policy

i went to philly torontoI Went to Philly opened up just over a month ago in the high-traffic area of Yonge and College. In a straightforward move, the name tells the whole story: the Stevenson family went to Philadelphia (visiting the ever-famous Pat's and Geno's), and fell in love with the Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

When I stop by, Julie and Jack Stevenson, the owners of the shop, aren't around, but I'm told they come in early every morning to prepare everything fresh for the day. Their sons Frankie and Peter, and nephew Da Vinci man the counter and kitchen well into the night--which means 10pm on weekdays, and 3am on Fridays and Saturdays. "Sundays we're closed," Da Vinci tells me, "we all go to church, and we're all in the choir."

i went to philly toronto"There's no place in Toronto that really offers Philly cheesesteaks. It's on the menu sure, but you go to a pizza place, they serve pizza; a burger place, they serve burgers. There aren't really any Philly cheesesteak restaurants," Da Vinci says. Julie and Jack (a former car salesman) were already looking to open a restaurant, but they weren't sure what form it would take. "Once they tasted it, they knew this was it."

i went to philly torontoThe interior is a nod to the American origins of the sandwich--with a wall covered in American dollar bills--but there are some Canadian flags hanging around the place. The restaurant itself is fairly small, with less than a dozen tables, but during my visit, it seems most of their patrons are of the grab 'n' go variety.

There are four options for sandwiches, and for each, you should specify whether you want "wit" or "wit-out" onions. We both opt for the Works ($8.65)--each sandwich down the menu is essentially adding an ingredient or two, and the Works is the pinnacle of the shop's concise menu. Everything is grilled before your eyes on their large griddle. A hefty chunk of ribeye is laid on the grill, tossed in salt, pepper, and the shop's secret stock made from jus and spices. A touch of soy and Worcestershire sauce finish it off. Fresh mushrooms and onions are then tossed in, and the bun is laid facedown to marinate briefly in the meat's juices.

i went to philly torontoIt's a beautiful sandwich. The white Italian bun is soft and holds up against the weight of its filling, the steak is cooked and seasoned perfectly, and there's an ample supply of vegetables. My one complaint comes out of a misunderstanding. We ask for provolone instead of Cheez Whiz (for reasons I'll outline below), but we're told that the sandwich comes with provolone already--and there, the conversation ended. I should've pressed further, but I was actually curious. Unsurprisingly, provolone's particular delicate flavor is completely subsumed by that strange, plastic Cheez Whiz taste.

A hot pickled cherry pepper comes on the side of each sandwich, and I'd recommend springing for some extras ($0.75). They offer a tangy respite from the richness of the sandwich.

i went to philly torontoLet's talk Cheez. It's everywhere--in two deep, intimidatingly large vats on either side of the grill and displayed in gargantuan jars around the counter--and comes on everything, from the sandwiches, to the cheese fries, to of course, the cheese steak fries. As a full disclaimer, not even as a tyke did I appreciate Cheez Whiz.

The fact that it was developed by a food scientist, and first saw the light of day in the not-especially-stringent-with-food-guidelines, but deeply-fascinated-with-nuclear-energy '50s always made me suspicious that it was intended to provide sustenance for the irradiated survivors of a nuclear fallout.

i went to philly torontoThat said, Cheez Whiz is indeed commonly used in cheesesteak sandwiches. The first ones, arriving on the scene in the '30s, were either sans cheese (which is also an option at I Went to Philly) or offered with American or provolone cheese, but it's since become a standby, possibly for its ease of use. At I Went to Philly, the vats are heated so the Cheez Whiz can be drizzled over top of, well, everything, at the perfect temperature.

The fries themselves--made fresh from Yukon gold potatoes, well-salted and perfectly fried--are incredible, but I do find myself scraping off the Cheez Whiz (despite having been game to try it a few minutes earlier) on the cheese fries ($3.65). The cheese steak fries ($5.15) somehow fare better--the beef more or less masks the Whiz.

i went to philly torontoDead-set on bringing a slice of authentic Americana to Toronto, they even offer Yoo-Hoos ($2.50), which are unavailable in Canada. The chocolate drink is heat-sterilized so as not to spoil, and comes in a can but is non-carbonated. It, too, is a throwback to the heyday of America, and hails from 1920s New Jersey. You'll also find Stewart's and Cott's sodas, and TastyKakes (also from Philadelphia) for dessert.

i went to philly toronto"We're not a franchise, or based off of anything else," Da Vinci tells me. "We're a family restaurant."

Discussion

30 Comments

Ken / October 12, 2012 at 01:01 pm
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Great shot of the ribeye on the griddle. The meat looks fabulous. Thanks for the warning on the cheez whiz, will definitely ask to have mine without. Provolone sounds like the right call.
v79 / October 12, 2012 at 01:06 pm
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"There's no place in Toronto that really offers Philly cheesesteaks". Really? Did these guys do any research before opening the place? There's plenty of cheese steak joints in T.O, such as The Steak & Cheese Factory on Eglinton near Yonge, and Steak & Cheese on College not too far from them. At least they're offering both provolone and Whiz, since even native Philadelphians can't decide which is the truly authentic version.
lolo / October 12, 2012 at 01:07 pm
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At first I was like, but then I was like and now I'm like
Brandon / October 12, 2012 at 01:12 pm
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This restaurant has the right idea! The cheez whiz is how the philly cheez steak is supposed to be, but the provolone taste way better. Awesome!
TJ / October 12, 2012 at 01:59 pm
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Prices are way too high. I work nearby and this is the only place along Yonge within a block which is more or less empty every time I pass by it at lunch (which is about 3 times a week). A Philly steak, fries, and a drink would cost you about $15-19 (including tax depending on which variation you choose). Just yesterday, a couple of dudes walked out as I passed by and they said the prices were outrageous. I heard them say they're going to Salad King because it costs less there.

Cheez-Wiz might have been the original Philly steak but when you're paying $7-10 a sandwich, I personally think it should be strictly real cheese (I know real cheese is already included). If you're charging $5-6 a phillysteak, then ok, use cheez-wiz.
Big Fuckin Mega Boat replying to a comment from TJ / October 12, 2012 at 03:48 pm
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Fair enough, but even a combo at most fast food burger joints will set you back 10-12 bucks these days, so it isn't THAT out of line (especially for something decent/different).

I haven't been to Philly in ages, I look forward to checking this place out to see if it measures up! Looks awesome.
Phill / October 12, 2012 at 04:07 pm
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Charley's at the Woodbine Centre Mall has the best Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. Provolone in their sandwiches and 100%Cheddar liquid Wisconsin cheese on their fries!!

CheeseSteaks are the best. Glad to see another good one open!!
RoydonZeigler / October 12, 2012 at 04:50 pm
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I do not approve!
john / October 12, 2012 at 05:41 pm
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closed on a sunday? are they for real? just hire some people to work part time if you want to go to church... it's not like making a cheese steak sandwich requires intensive training or skills.

also, let me second those who sayat these prices, cheez wiz is a joke.
McRib / October 12, 2012 at 06:18 pm
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yeah, screw those guys for wanting to close their own business to take a day off!
Rick / October 12, 2012 at 11:58 pm
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Sounds good but the prices. The cost of cheese whiz (which you can buy in bulk at Costco) and thinly sliced rib-eye steak isn't that expensive. These guys are essentially ripping people off.

Yes, it is "unique", and I use that word loosely since nobody in T.O. really tries to imitate the actual Philly steak like Pats or Ginos, but common....$15 for a sandwich?

And I thought Quiznos was expensive...
john / October 13, 2012 at 09:23 am
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Great review! Will have to try it sometime but if the prices are really that high it might be a one time thing for me. Not to sound like a cheapass but I'm just a student and I'm looking for the most bang for my buck. 12 inch sub for 6 bucks at subway? yes please. 3.99 jerk chicken lunch at ritz? im all over that...you get the point.
Warren / October 13, 2012 at 12:46 pm
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I agree with the exaggerated pricing. I visited once (did not purchase), was turned off by the prices and lack of daily specials, just up the road is A&W with their superior value priced burgers, and McDonald's with their less superior but value options. This place will be shortly down for the count unless they compete with the established local joints.

I've always appreciated the Food Network show 'Diners, Drive-ins & Dives' and am surprised that such places (with raved about specialties) are non-existent in Toronto.
Johnny bento / October 13, 2012 at 12:56 pm
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I strongly believe cheez wiz is no we're near plastic tasting I have been going to this place since they opened and I find if u dont like wiz they defiantly Clarify it up for and cause no confusion straight foward and on point I think u were confused because u failed to push the issue and ask more about it. but for those of u who think its pricy I find it a reasonable price for a great portion of food great customer service handsome well maintained boys and girls generous lady and nephew I love this place and I can't stop #wiz4lyfe
Matt Burke / October 13, 2012 at 01:37 pm
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I couldn't agree more with Johnny I love this place I'm a regular great people still new to the biz but they enjoy there job and love doing what they do the mother is all ways smiling dancing helpful and gives good explanations and really breaks down the menu for people her and her nephew are extremely helpful and work well together like a dynamic duo lol all in all there family right so I no this place is amazing nice vibe good food great location definitely a place to go before you hit the bucket
It's simple as this you don't like wiz don't get it
Great review but plastic wiz I agree is a bit over fine and definitely not too pricy it would run 10-12 dollars at any other place Mcdonakds/burger king so I definitely am a fan
Stephen / October 13, 2012 at 07:43 pm
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I grew up eating cheesesteaks on the Jersey shore before it was hip by those stooges on MTV. And all I can say before visiting is thank you jebus murphy. A review will follow shortly.
no / October 14, 2012 at 02:30 am
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i can't believe you people are complaining about an 8.65 sandwich. if you're eating fries alongside one of these, you're a fat pig, and even if you have to have a soda there's no way you're spending more than 12 bucks. it's real food (arguably minus the wiz) not whatever they pull out of a bag at subway. and are ou seriously saying you would go to mcdonalds over this? i wish these people all the success in the world as long as the product stays good
Kevin Brown / October 15, 2012 at 05:32 pm
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I tried this place on the first day that it opened. On the plus side the bun is just perfect, nice and fluffy and hold up to the toppings. The steak was tasty although chopped up a little bit too fine for my liking - I prefer more of the steak texture. Also on the plus side the family running the restaurant are very friendly (the mother told me it was their first day operating any restaurant).

On the negative side the portion is on the small side for the price. I ordered the fully loaded with both cheeses and onions and it was about $10 which I would not have minded if I left full but I was still hungry when I left.

I did note the other night that they were promoting free fries with the order of any sandwich - I had just eaten but I will try them out again if the promotion is still running.

If they want to be successful they really need to revisit their pricing. It is a delicate balance. At the right price they could have customers lined outside the entrance given the location.
Rob / November 3, 2012 at 08:30 am
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These guys need to fix some things.

1. The branding is terrible, the name is bad, all of it.
2. Seeing a guy in a cheesesteak suit handing out flyers on a brutally cold evening doesn't make me think too highly of his employers. I looked in his eyes and felt pity, not hunger.
3. The restaurant has no atmosphere.
Adam / November 10, 2012 at 01:57 pm
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I was eager to check this place out as soon as I saw that it was opening soon. I finally ate there with a friend this week and neither of us were disappointed.

It goes to show you how people's opinions about food are so varied. I resisted ordering a side of fries with my sandwich, and I'm glad I did because the sandwich was HUGE and very filling as far as I was concerned. The hot pepper served alongside was a nice touch as well. I cut it up and put it on the sandwich.

In terms of atmosphere, what do you expect from a Philly Cheesesteak shop? I thought it was fine, and I'll definitely be back.
MER1978 / November 10, 2012 at 05:19 pm
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I like the idea... and the cheese steak fries looked so I good I just went out to get some... but for a second time I came back empty handed... first time I was nearby and walked over only to discover they aren't open Sundays... and just now... because they're cash only and as pretty much always I had nothing but cards on me. :(
Genie / December 5, 2012 at 06:30 am
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I have eaten millions of cheese steaks in Philly and all over Eastern Pa. I have never had any cheese but provolone. I have never had green peppers and Worcestershire?
Ya gotta be kiddiin' me. I will give it a try, but I am setting myself up for disappointment.
David / January 18, 2013 at 09:13 pm
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Why are people claiming that a cheese steak sandwich here costs $15 or more?

They are clearly wrong. I just ordered here for the first time. TWO sandwiches with the works came to about $18 including taxes ($8.65 each plus tax.)

They were huge and delicious. I ordered without Cheez Whiz - neon orange "processed cheese product" just seems wrong to me.
David replying to a comment from Rick / January 18, 2013 at 09:19 pm
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The ssandwiches are NOT $15. The most expensive is $8.65. Great value for something containing fresh ingredients (except the optional Cheez Whiz) prepared to order, and generously portioned.
APOW / January 30, 2013 at 04:44 pm
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YALL AINT NUTHIN BOUT NO A&W CHEESETAKZ I WENT 3 TIMES ALREADY, LOVED THE WHIZ, NEEDS MORE WHIZ IF ANYTHING. PLZ ADD MORE WHIZ

-APOW
Umami Jr. / February 25, 2013 at 11:37 am
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I'm heading here the next time I'm in the area! Unlike the name of the place, I've never been to Philly. This may be a good thing, since I won't be in comarison mode. As for price point. I think it's rather in line with many Toronto restos. The price of "american-cheeseburger-style" places is a good example. Methodology and process may be borrowed, but the prices are not. That aside, I'm looking for a tasty meal. It's worth the try and if it gets my stamp of approval, I will spread the word to my equally hungy colleagues! ... I already have for a couple of those american-cheeseburger-style places.
andy2394 / April 11, 2013 at 10:55 am
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A friend from Philadelphia likes this place (I relied on his opinion in terms of authenticity). He said it's the closest he has had in terms of what he can get back in Philly.
Rob W / March 2, 2014 at 12:35 am
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Went there the other day and had a cheese steak, fries and can of pop for $8.85 plus tax ($10.00), so I don't know where all these price complaints are coming from. Very satisfying sandwich, and the fries were country chip-truck worthy. McD's is gonna set you back the same amount for a lot less tasty meal.
JoeyJoeJoe / March 14, 2014 at 01:42 pm
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I tried this place out, I would agree with most people that the sandwich "the works" alone comes to $9.77 after tax. They do provide a decent amount of meat within the sandwich but overall it wasn't worth the price. I personally didn't like it as the cheeze wiz doesn't taste good, if you don't like cheese wiz you won't like this. Also the works didn't really seem to be any different then the regular philly sandwich. I would recommend to get the deal they have which is regular philly sandwich with fries for $8.88 pre tax.

Would I go back? No. It didn't taste good and value wasn't that great. I'm not against paying $10 for a sandwich but really ...just meat and cheese wiz (The works should of had more but I don't even remember it having anything else)?

...
BenFranklinBridge / August 22, 2014 at 10:38 am
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The only way to eat a cheese steak is "wiz with".

Now, all they need is a pork roll, egg and cheese breakfast sandy. SPK? Um, yes.

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