By Frank Sabatini Jr.
On a recent layover in the Philadelphia International Airport, hubby and I walked straight into Tony Luke’s at our connecting terminal. We arrived having eaten only yogurt parfaits prior to boarding our flight in San Diego.
Our much-needed meal at Tony’s, which flaunts multiple locations throughout Philly, involved two glorious cheesesteaks — one with sweet and hot peppers and Provolone cheese, and the other oozing with onions and Cheez Whiz. Both came on excellent, semi-chewy rolls baked supposedly onsite. We endured serious cravings for the sandwiches until returning home.
Based on eating these iconic artery cloggers a few times in urban areas of Philadelphia as well, I have three trusty benchmarks for judging cheesesteaks made in San Diego: the tenderness of the beef, the juice factor, and the crust-to-fluff ratio of the roll.
With a commendable dose of brotherly love, Gaglione Bros. Famous Steaks & Subs nails them down.
The Point Loma eatery launched in 2004 after siblings Joe, Andy and Tony Gaglione made multiple visits to the Northeast to visit family members. In doing so, they developed a taste for authentic cheesesteaks and other submarine sandwiches slung from various neighborhood eateries and decided to replicate them locally. They’ve since opened two other locations, in the Mission Gorge area and Encinitas.
With the exception of twice biting into gristle, the cheesesteaks here stand up precisely to any I’ve had in Philly. The well-marbled rib eye is otherwise tender, and chipped down to ideal thinness with the edge of the cook’s metal spatula.
The natural juices of the beef are largely retained during grilling while a little extra moisture is picked up from grilled onions, mushrooms or cherry peppers if you request them.
I opted for the latter, and the result was a well-contained cheesesteak with white American cheese binding the innards, though dripping just enough to appease the many Philadelphia transplants an employee said frequent the place. Other cheese choices are Provolone, Swiss and Cheez Whiz.
The co-star of these cheesesteaks is the roll. Gaglione imports them a few times a week from the legendary Amoroso’s Baking Company in Philly. They’re architecturally wondrous with crusty outer shells, airy interiors, and cornmeal-dusted bottoms. Bakers in San Diego and elsewhere who’ve tried copying them fail consistently.
Hubby tried the chicken cheesesteak with grilled onions and mushrooms and white American, relegating his urge for Cheez Whiz to an order of medium-cut french fries covered with diced jalapenos.
He wolfed down the sandwich with great pleasure, but when an eatery such as this so accurately (and rarely) captures all the right elements of the almighty cheesesteak, I’ll take traditional steak instead of trendy chicken with my cheese any day.
From the “specialty sandwiches” category, we also tried the “Father Joe,” comprising soft, house-made meatballs, Provolone, bright marinara and fresh parsley, all enveloped by Amoroso’s bready love. And unless the parsley was tricking our palates, we detected a nice hint of mint in the meatballs. Either way, it was a tasty, solid sandwich you’d easily find in back-East restaurants.
Other sandwich options include Buffalo-style chicken, a “turk” using fresh-baked turkey, chicken parmesan, and the Sophia Loren with capicolla, Genoa salami, pepperoni, Provolone and veggie garnishments. Along with the cheesesteaks, they’re available in three sizes, with the largest measuring 18 inches.
Gaglione’s original spot is located on the east end of Midway Towne Center. The atmosphere is casual and somewhat noisy. There are about five tables inside and a few on the front patio. It isn’t licensed to serve alcohol, although beer is available at the Mission Gorge location, at 10450 Friars Road, #B.
—Frank Sabatini Jr. is the author of “Secret San Diego” (ECW Press), and began his local writing career more than two decades ago as a staffer for the former San Diego Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.