Editor’s Note: As of December 2013, this restaurant is closed.
In the movie “Baby Mama,” Kate and Rob go on their first date to a vegetarian restaurant that turns out to be awful. Rob suggested it because he was trying to impress Kate, the vice president of development at a health food chain, only to learn that she loves meat too, especially Philly cheesesteaks.
Watching Kate (played by Tina Fey) and Rob (played by Greg Kinnear) destroy those classic American sandwiches made me want one myself.
I hadn’t had one since my visit to Philadelphia two years ago, when I ate a whole sandwich from a place at the Reading Terminal Market after my classmate Sean made a derogatory remark to challenge me. I told my friend Lucas about this, about how I wished I could eat a Philly cheesesteak in Medellín.
“I know a place,” he said.
He took me to Philly Steaks, a hole-in-the-wall in Belén owned by a guy named Mike who split his time growing up in the states between Boston and New Jersey.
I was eager to see if he knew how to make a real cheesesteak, everything from the bread — the perfect combination of soft, but not too soft, and definitely a little flaky — to the meat — tender, not chewy — to the cheese — provolone will work but anyone familiar with real cheesesteaks knows it’s all about the Whiz.
Mike delivered. I haven’t had a cheesesteak this good outside of Philly since…well, ever. There was this place in Arlington, Va., that claimed to have the real thing, but it was just another faux spot, not much better than Subway.
Mike’s ‘steaks are legit. Seriously.
I got a half ‘steak, what you see in the picture. No, each piece isn’t a half. Each piece is a quarter. That’s right, a quarter. I thought that’s all I would eat, a quarter. But it was so good, I couldn’t stop. I ate the whole half.
But a whole sandwich? No way. There’s no way I can eat a whole cheesesteak again. I’m 135 pounds. When I did it in Philly, I weighed a little closer to 150.
That half did me right. It was the classic sandwich, with grilled steak and onions, topped with Whiz and cradled comfortably in the perfect bread, the way a mother carries a baby.
When I was done, I was full and I was smiling, not only because it tasted so good but also because it cost me only 11,000 pesos, or about $5.50.
Lucas had half a steak especiales, which comes with lettuce, tomato, peppers and jalapeños. His ‘steak cost 13,000 pesos, or about $6.50. His girlfriend Erika had the same, but without the jalapeños. She ate only a quarter.
A whole cheesesteak costs 22,000 pesos (about $11), the especiales 23,000 (about $11.50). You can also get them with chicken if you prefer, for the same price. If you’re not in the mood for a sandwich, Mike makes buffalo and barbecue wings, and whatever you get, fries are a nice side. I like them with cheese.
The place has been open only a couple of months now, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to do well.
Think about it: the paisas love carne and they are intrigued by American culture. Just the way people look at the restaurant when they walk by…I know it’s going to do well. A lot of them even stop in to try one, and they’ve come back.
One night, a woman sitting next to me told me she loved the sandwich; she just wished she had a bigger appetite.
Another night, I was at a buddy’s restaurant, watching the 49ers-Saints playoff game with my friend Ferney. One his friends showed up shortly after I did. He was raving about a new restaurant where he had just eaten, a place, he said to Ferney, “that you must go.”
Then he handed Ferney a Philly Steaks menu and raved about it some more.