Philadelphia, PA… The city of brotherly love, a wealth of historic sites and stories, and home to one of the most iconic American foods known to man: The Philly Cheese Steak! One of my all-time favorites. Whenever I go down to Philly I am sure to get a cheese steak. I tend to try a different place every time using a method taught to me by a good friend from Philly: look at the people coming out of the restaurant and if you can see grease through the bag… go inside and order yourself a cheese steak. The only problem with the Philly Cheese Steak, I could only get one in Philly. Much like the famed Baltimore Crab Cake or the New England Clam Chowder or so many other great staples throughout the world, anywhere besides Philadelphia that claimed to have a Philly Cheese Steak, lied. I am not saying I have not had some wonderful Steak and Cheese sandwiches, just that they were not Philly Cheese steaks. That is until I was invited up to Norwich, CT to try Philly’s.
Located at 33 Sherman Street in Norwich (down the street from Backus Hospital), when you drive by Philly’s, it is easy to ignore from the outwardly appearance and simply drive on by without even noticing it. That would be a mistake. This has to be one of the best kept secrets in the State of Connecticut. While not much to look at, Philly’s delivers authentic Philadelphia flavors and quality better than anywhere else outside of Philadelphia itself… in fact, it pretty much transports you down to the City of Brotherly Love. Two warnings: 1) There is not really many places to eat. Outside there is a small counter with a few seats, but there are no tables inside, so come expecting to take out or stand at the counter and eat (like I did) unless you get one of the coveted outside spots.
I was lucky enough to have owner Shem Adams (pictured below) there to walk me through the men and prepare me a feast of a tasting course by course. Shem is originally from Philadelphia, which probably explains why he has been able to create something that gave me an unexpected reaction to eating his Philly Cheese Steak, describe a little later (everything in its time). He first came up to CT in 1994 and then moved up permanently in 1997. After years of going back and forth to Philly just to get a load of his favorite sandwich, Shem decided enough was enough. In 2010 he decided to start Philly’s and spent the year preparing the restaurant to open. When it did in 2011, it was immediately welcomed by the town residents, quickly becoming the place to go for lunch and to have provide the food for local events and fundraisers. Plus, Philly’s delivers to the Norwich area from 11-2 for lunch. Shem was taught the secrets of the true Philly Cheese Steak by his friends back down in PA, and brought the magic up with him.
Anyways, enough already with me rambling on… Let’s get to the FOOD! He started me off with the Buffalo Chicken Fries.
The fries were well seasoned and perfectly crisp out of the frier, topped with a monstrous portion of chopped Buffalo Chicken prepared with a “Doctored-up” Frank’s Sauce (as Shem put it) and a “drizzle” of Ranch Sauce. I started munching away at the sinfully delicious platter, barely getting my complimentary words out to Shem in between bites when Shem stopped me and asked one simple question… “You like ketchup?”. “Of course!” I replied. Shem responded “Put a little on them.” as he slid me the bottle across the counter. This took a great platter of fries to whole different level. The sweet tartness of the ketchup melded into the smooth ranch sauce and simply made me utter one word… “Duuuude!” That’s all I needed to say as Shem smiled knowing full well that my meal was only beginning.
Next up came “The Broad Street Bully”. An accolade winning sandwich (featured as one of the best sandwiches in THE COUNTRY by The Travel Channel), this goliath of meal is packed with Extra Meat (Twice-Shave Rib-eye), provolone, Fried Onions, Mushrooms (though I got mine without), sweet and hot peppers, pickles, and of course… Cheez Whiz.
This overstuffed behemoth could satisfy the hunger of any body, not to mention the fries I had already eaten, but I dug right in…
And after one bite, I, Jason “MaurPowerFoodie” Maur, the man who has probably never stopped talking a day in his life, was speechless. FINALLY, an authentic Philly Cheese Steak NOT in Philadelphia. Every single ingredient melded into the next; there was no need to chew because the meat was sliced so thin it just melted in your mouth; each flavor played off the other creating a simple feeling… comfortable bliss. This was the moment that teleported me out of Norwich, CT and down to Philadelphia, PA. I do not know if I can type the words to fully do this sandwich, so I will type just one, “GO!”. Experience this or any one of the other many different varieties of Cheese Steaks. Quite possibly the most intriguing to me is the sandwich that is 100% Shem entitled “The Barkley”. Made with both steak and chicken, 3 cheeses, and a host of other toppings, this is my next order when I return. Philly’s also offers chicken instead of steak for any of the sandwiches, a variety of hoagies, and can even do a vegetarian option without the steak. One last look at the Fries and Cheese Steak before I devour them and the meat on the slicer ready to be sliced fresh for the next sandwich.
So I had some delicious food already under my belt (and pushing it out with each bite) but my feast was still not over. Next came something completely foreign to me: The Original Tarantini Panzarotti. Made by Shem’s friend Leo from Camden, NJ (right outside of PA), this was something I had never heard of yet tasted.
What’s inside that crispy, fried homemade crust? Quite simply, mozzarella and home-made sauce. This is your basic childhood pizza bite ON STEROIDS! Freshly fried with a flavorful crispy fried dough on the outside, the inside is filled with oozing, melted goodness.
If you want a trip back to your childhood, this is how you get it. I don’t know if I can go back to pizza bites after having these, but I may start trying to make them myself, though I am sure it will take me some time to get them as perfect as these.
And of course, what meal would be complete without dessert? Certainly not this feast. But for dessert we went off menu! I have been given permission to share with you one of the secrets of Philly’s: Fried Philly Bread!
As I said, this item is not on the menu, and actually not even available every day. When you go, ask for it. If they don’t have it that day or have sold out (which they do fast), GO BACK FOR IT! This is a fried cinnamon spice baked bread that is then fried to the point that there is a crispy, cinnamony outer crust, but the inside is still super moist and fluffy. The cake is then topped with vanilla ice cream and a house-made butterscotch sauce. Far from the healthiest way to finish a calorie packed meal, it was certainly the best way I can think of to end the feast. I devoured the dessert down to each spoonful of that butterscotch sauce. Also, be sure to try one of the many flavors of one of Philly’s favorite drinks, Jarritos. I went with Fruit Punch and am going to get Pineapple next time.
Quite simply put, do not miss out on this hidden treasure of Connecticut. Thank you not only to Shem (pictured below with me), but to the rest of the staff at Philly’s Marlon (pictured below, original customer and new employee), Ed, and Evan, for an amazing meal. You certainly showed me why Philly’s is the true replication of the City of Brotherly Love.
I also talked to Dave, Jess, & young Jamie who were enjoying their Barkleys and Fries. Dave had been many a time and bragged to Jess of the quality of these sandwiches, and Jess was not a believer… Until, like me, she took one bite. They all gave the food two thumbs up as their mouths were too full to comment fully. But did manage to let me know they will back… A lot! I know am looking forward to my return visit. Be sure to check out their website, friend them on facebook, and follow them on twitter. Call for your order (860)912-1057 and be sure to tell them MaurPowerFoodie sent you.
Until next time, this is Jason “Maur Power Foodie” Maur signing out. I am going into a food coma now.