Admittedly, this review may be perceived as a shameless plug for a fellow South Jersey ex-pat from a guy who misses all the artery-clogging Philly/ South Jersey cuisine. But I have to admit, Philly Steaks (the name says it all) serves up authentic-style steak sandwiches that I haven’t enjoyed in ages.
Mike Conte is an ex-pat who moved here from South Jersey. He set up shop in one of the nicer neighborhoods of the Laureles sector of Medellin. Given the limited amount of authentic cheesesteak ingredients to work with in Medellin, Mike does a great job of replicating the world famous Philly cheesesteak. As Mike says, he and his wife put three main ingredients in every sandwich (Amor, Amor y Amor).
I treated my wife and sister-in law to one of Mike’s super Cheesesteaks Especial. “Philly Steaks” menu is simple and straightforward and includes three variants of beef and chicken steak sandwiches. Buffalo wings, French and cheese fries, and funnel cake round out the rest of the menu. You can choose from plain steak, cheese steak and a steak with hoagie-style trimmings (la especial).
I like my cheesesteaks simple with mayonnaise, onions, mushrooms, sweet peppers and of course, bathed in cheez whiz. This time, I was outvoted by the two Colombianas who wanted the Cheesesteak Especial which includes lettuce, tomato and chopped jalapeno peppers. (Two of us vetoed the jalapenos.) Mike brought out a 2 1/2 ft hoagie roll and asks the paisitas if they knew what a cheesesteak is. My wife is a vet of South Jersey, but for my sister-in-law who never ventured outside of Antioquia, the Philly Cheesesteak was as strange as a American eating chinchurria for the first time. Mike showed her the roll, and explained how he was going to prepare the beef steak. We also added the mandatory cheese fries to the order. Mike went to work, and in less than 10 minutes, the sandwich and fries were done. Mike added a healthy helping of Hellmann’s “queso cremero” to the top of the steak and fries and whacked the 30” steak into 3 equal sandwiches. The two hungry paisitas and I tackled our sandwiches and intermittently devoured a few cheese fries. (I wasn’t bashful about asking for more cheez whiz, either.)
OK. Here is my 2 cents on the meal. The roll was soft and moist… and did not have the grainy texture that seems common in Colombian bread. My recovering taste buds enjoyed the tanginess of the mayonnaise and cheese topping. The beef steak was well-seasoned, cooked thoroughly and mixed with fresh onions, mushrooms and peppers. The meat was tasty, but was not greasy and wet like the way I love cheesesteak. As a matter of fact, the sandwich tasted healthy… and probably a lot better for me than what I was accustomed to eating in NJ. The hoagie trimmings were all fresh and full of flavor.
The cheese fries were delicious. Mike says he makes them from scratch. The cheese fries were not greasy and fried to the correct consistency and texture. I forgot to ask, but I believe Mike sprinkled the fries with what appeared to be an “Old Bay” type seasoning. In short order, there were 3 empty plates on the table. The bill came to COP$ 39,500 for 3 people, and that included the sandwiches, fries and drinks. At today’s rates, that comes to about $7 per person.
The steak shop is small, with most of the seating outside on the patio. Sodas and juices are available for purchase, but I did not see any beer. The kitchen and dining area are clean and well-maintained. Philly Steaks is located in Laureles two blocks away from the Church of Santa Gema, one of the landmarks on La Ochenta and a safe neighborhood. Mike says he does not get a lot of business from the average “Joe Paisa” living or working in his Laureles neighborhood; rather, his clientele is comprised of professionals who are familiar with the US, or young university students, who frequent his establishment. Phillysteaks delivers if within reasonable distance of the restaurant.
It is not easy to find a good cheesesteak, or any cheesesteak for that matter, in the Aburra Valley. There probably are a few places in Parque Lleras that may serve “cheesesteaks”. (If my memory serves me correct, I ate a “forgettable” cheesesteak at “Hooters” a few years ago that did not come close to the quality of “Philly Steaks.”) Mike is a good guy who puts his heart and soul into his line of American fast food. If you have a longing for gringo comfort foods while in Paisaland, I highly recommend Mike’s PhillySteaks. It’s the perfect place for lunch, an early dinner, or impromptu get together.
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