A menu with 25 Philly cheesesteak sandwich choices sounds great.
Until you’re standing at the counter at newly opened Straight From Philly and have to commit.
Did I want the cheesesteak bomb with an extra layer of gluttony from capocollo? Or the H Bomb with something called Atomic sauce? Or the off-kilter ones, such as the Hawaiian with bacon and pineapple or the Cuban with ham, pickles, mustard and Swiss? Would I have room for the loaded fries?
With stomach space and a limited supply of Tums, I went basic, which means I’ll have to — oh, darn — return numerous times to tackle the menu’s 25 cheesesteaks and 11 loaded fries.
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Let’s call that my gut-bomb bucket list.
Owners Michelle and Scott Parker are new to Tacoma but not to the cheesesteak business. They previously operated Philly sandwich shops in Texas and Nevada (those both have new owners). They relocated here to Tacoma to start yet another. Two of their four children also work at the shop.
A sandwich shop specializing in cheesesteaks is a rarity here. A crush of customers has slammed Straight From Philly since its mid-November opening.
The plan originally was for Scott — who is a Philly native — to work the register and Michelle to cook, but the volume of customers changed that plan.
“We had to get a family member to come help us run the register,” said Michelle.
She and Scott are both working in the kitchen to keep up with demand. So far they’re doing double the business they did in Nevada and Texas.
That’s come with some bumps, including an isolated incident of a malfunctioning wireless-order printer and near misses with running out of food. Thankfully, their supplier has kept the provisions stocked, all the way down to the Amoroso rolls imported from Philadelphia.
“That’s a deal breaker for us. It’s not a cheesesteak without an Amoroso,” Michelle said about the famous hearth-baked Philly sandwich rolls with a sturdy texture. “Amoroso has a chew to it that no other bread has. The cheese will break down the other bread and make it mushy.”
She said those rolls cost double a typical Italian or hoagie roll, but there’s no compromising on the roll.
The cheesesteak formula here is straightforward — and darn good. Seasoned steak is chopped into pieces large and small, yielding pleasing zigzags of texture, with just the right caramelization on the edges. Peppers and onions likewise are grilled into sweet submission. The rolls come with just the right chew. The cheese is a vital flavor and texture component.
Locals might notice that there’s a bit of engineering marvel in the sandwich construction. At Straight From Philly, cheese is deeply incorporated into the tangle of meat, onions and peppers with full cheesy coverage from end to end. Each bite pulls with gooey strings of cheese, which I argue makes a superior cheesesteak.
I’ve heard from a few diners that they want a cheesy drape of cheese in a single layer on top of the sandwich. To those people I ask, “Are you insane?”
However, Parker said they’d make a cheesesteak with a layer of cheese on top, if requested.
My preference is full cheesy incorporation.
Here’s a first-bite look. It’s this paper’s policy to avoid criticism of food and service in a restaurant’s first month.
Dining room: Attractive, with well-spaced tables and seating for 24. Order at the counter, listen for your name and collect your order.
Lines: Don’t let the long lines daunt you. My visit saw a line 10 or 15 deep, but my experience was about a half hour from ordering to eating to exiting.
Menu: 25 cheesesteaks sandwiches, eight cheeseburgers, 11 loaded fries, gyro sandwiches and six hoagie sandwiches.
Cheesesteaks: All cheesesteaks come standard with grilled steak, American cheese and fried onions, unless specified. Chicken also available. Cheese Whiz and provolone available at no extra charge, by request.
Low-tech options include a steak and onion ($8.50), a basic with cheese ($9.50), a choice of sweet pepper, bell pepper, banana pepper, cherry pepper or jalapeno pepper cheesesteaks ($10.50), plus loaded specialty cheesesteaks such as the Cuban with ham, chicken, Swiss, mustard and pickles ($11.50); a Hawaiian with chicken, bacon, pineapple and provolone ($11.50); a South Philly with peppers, mushrooms, onions and Cheese Whiz ($11.50); a North Philly with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and provolone ($11.50); the H Bomb with capocollo, cherry peppers, habanero jack cheese and atomic sauce ($11.90); and the Broad Street Bully with mushrooms, extra cheese and four kinds of peppers — bell, banana, hot cherry and sweet ($12.90). All cheesesteaks served a la carte.
Burgers: Third-pound burgers are standard, and topping choices include cheese ($7.90), bacon and cheese ($8.90), mushroom Swiss ($7.90), bacon and blue cheese ($8.90) and more. All burgers served with fries.
Sandwiches: Gyro sandwiches with lamb on pita and served with fries ($8.60 to $9.60), and six hoagies dressed with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion, sweet peppers, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and oregano and served with chips ($8.90 to $9.90).
Loaded fries: 11 kinds of fries with toppings spanning steak and Cheese Whiz ($6.90), dirty fries with steak and gravy ($6.90), chili cheese fries ($4.90), garlic chicken parmesan fries ($6.90), Greek fries ($6.90) and bacon cheese fries ($4.90).
Also try: Onion rings ($4.90), fried mac and cheese bites ($5.90), fried pickles ($5.90), mozzarella sticks ($5.90), jalapeno poppers ($5.90) and more.
Cheap eats: $7.95 daily special during all hours includes half a cheesesteak, chips and soda.
Low carb: Sandwiches served on a bed of lettuce are available.
On a first trip: Don’t miss the appropriately named Cheesesteak Bomb with double fat punches from a huge portion of chopped, grilled steak and slices of cured capocollo ($11.50).The sandwich held gooey reinforcement from provolone. All sandwiches were enough for two people, easily.
The Atomic Garlic Parmesan got its fiery heat from Atomic sauce, which is Louisiana hot sauce steeped with habaneros and a sprinkle of “pepper dust,” which is chile powder house-made from dried, ground habaneros ($10.50). The South Philly was a classic with lots of grilled peppers, mushrooms, onions and a generous channel of Cheese Whiz ($11.50).
Atomic fries carried that same epically hot Atomic sauce, a river of Cheese Whiz over molten hot fries ($4.40).
Straight From Philly
Where: 1126 Commerce St., Tacoma
Info: 253-292-1991 or facebook.com/straightfromphilly/
Hours: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 11-8 p.m. Fridays, 12-8 p.m. Saturdays. Closed Sundays and Mondays.