Spice Rack : Fill-adelphia: Specializing in Philly staple, quirky joint constructs melty goodness
Address: 2533 James Street
Hours: Monday to Friday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday noon to 7 p.m.
It may not always be sunny in Philadelphia, but rumor has it that the cheesesteaks are always delicious.
Instead of driving the five-odd hours necessary to test that theory, I traveled a mere 12 minutes to go to A Taste of Philadelphia. Open for business since 1976, the small shop looks like an old-school Philly dive. Framed photographs, signs and T-shirts — all Philadelphia-themed, of course — clutter the walls. Hardly an inch remains uncovered. Casual dark green and red tablecloths drape the tables, and the atmosphere feels authentically like Philly, with a solid helping of sass.
Part of that cheekiness comes from Nancy Carni, A Taste of Philadelphia’s owner. After teaching for 15 years, she decided she needed a change and jumped on the opportunity to buy the restaurant. She’s charming, quick-witted and chatty.
‘I think the attitude that I have, I don’t know what it is, but it brings the people in and it keeps them here,’ she said, laughing. Not only is Carni unafraid to joke around with customers, but she claims to serve up a mean Philly cheesesteak. We decided to put her skills to the test.
For our Saturday lunch, my dining partners and I ordered one classic Philly and one chicken cheesesteak with hot peppers. Although Taste of Philadelphia specializes in cheesesteaks of all varieties, including pizza, it also serves cold cuts, chicken tenders, salads and various sides. We sprang for an order of French fries with our sandwiches — the best decision we could have ever made.
I kid you not; these had all the makings of the ideal fry: served piping hot with a crispy outside and a plentiful amount of potato inside. I would go back to A Taste of Philadelphia simply to order three servings of those French fries — and eat them all myself.
It took less than 10 minutes for Carni to bring over the sandwiches. After excitedly peeling back the tin foil, we looked at our meals and promptly drooled. I took a bite of the gigantic chicken sandwich first, and my taste buds found themselves in heaven. The copious amount of American cheese, so hot it liquefied around the thinly shredded chicken, created one oozy mass of deliciousness. The Italian bread, thick and fluffy, overflowed with meaty goodness. The hot peppers added a spicy kick. I ate my third of the sandwich with an unshakable look of supreme happiness plastered across my face.
Next up was the legend of Philly itself: the cheesesteak sandwich. Carni had chopped the meat into extremely fine pieces and heaped on generous amounts of cheese. She always uses the classic rib-eye meat that Philly cheesesteaks are famous for, and it pays off with a tender juiciness.
I missed the presence of the peppers that we had added to the other sandwich, though. Without them, the cheesesteak lacked a certain zing. Without that special something it was just bread, meat and cheese. Next time I might have to try it with mushrooms or onions. One of the distinguishing features of both sandwiches was the surprising lack of grease. No soggy bread or leftover pool of oil here.
When the time came to pay —A Taste of Philadelphia only takes cash — it took an effort just to stand up. That’s how full I was. I may not have actually trekked over to Philly, but the entire dining experience made me feel as if I had.
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