Updated: Nov 13, 2019
Another diamond in the rough
While hanging out near my old high school stomping grounds the sweet aroma of steak, cheese & bread met my nostrils. I immediately became aware of a place serving cheese steaks about a quarter mile down the road, at the Green line’s Ashland stop. On my walk over I noticed the area itself changed somewhat, with it being cleaner & there being a Divvy bike station (https://bit.ly/2NiidaK) there now. Now’s not the time to reminisce though as there’s a Philly Cheese Steak calling my name!
Arriving at the location I kind of expected a restaurant, but noticed a familiar corner store or “Bodega” as they call them in New York in its place. The large blue sign read “Chicago Philly Stop” in white lettering so I must’ve been at the right place. Upon entry you’re inside a smaller than average corner store (https://bit.ly/36jVNPh). Moving past the ATM you see they have the place outfitted with a small kitchen. The staff themselves are walled off in an all too familiar bullet proof booth (https://bit.ly/2BU5u8Z), giving away the type of neighborhood I’m in & perhaps the clientele they usually deal with. While they served the customers ahead of me, I took the opportunity to check out the place.
With the place being small there’s limited inventory. All of your usual “hood” favorites are here though from Flamin’ Hots to Wildwood soda & Grape Drink (do all of these stores purposefully stock these items in certain areas???) There are standard menu items pictured above the cashier windows, of which there’s two. The prices of the food here is pretty cheap, but average for the type of place it is.
My appetite settled on a Philly Steak & a Double Gyro Cheeseburger. Both of these items are staples of these “hood” restaurants. A large smile crept upon my face as I looked at the menu as the combos come with fries & a Wildwood soda, something which I haven’t drank in easily a decade. I forgot to check if they had the old Flamin’ Hot Cheetos with cheese & meat though, but I’ll definitely remember next time.
To those that aren’t aware, mild sauce is a cheap BBQ sauce, not a “watery ketchup.”
The food took about fifteen minutes to cook. While I was waiting other customers came & went. An interaction between the cashier & an elderly man brought back memories. The elderly man clearly asked for two of whatever he was buying so the cashier rang him up for two at which point the man told the cashier he said “one” & fumed about it. As he walked away, he said out loud “you can’t tell me what I said!” even though he clearly said two. The cashier, most likely used to things like this, stayed calm inside the safety of his bullet proof booth offering no rebuttal. Hats off to him as in the past I’ve seen staff try to argue with customers, escalating situations like these for no reason.
The food was packed neatly. Upon opening the packages, you can see lots of “sweat.” Chicago Philly Stop chooses the standard cut for their fries (https://bit.ly/2qMmkUO) & even though there’s lots of moisture, the fries themselves are disappointingly dry which is typical at these types of restaurants. They also messed up my order as I specifically requested the usual “salt, pepper & mild sauce” on the fries, but upon inspection they only put mild sauce.
To those that aren’t aware, mild sauce is a cheap BBQ sauce, not a “watery ketchup.” It’s sweet & doesn’t contain much spice if at all. The closest comparison I would say is Sweet Baby Ray’s Original BBQ sauce, except Ray’s is definitely the high-end version of mild sauce. The sauce helped the fries somewhat, added much needed moisture as well as flavor. Without the sauce the fries leave a lot to be desired.
What kind of review would this be if I didn’t review the namesake? Philly Steaks are meant to be cherished & initial impressions here show me that the chef knows this. The sandwich is neatly packed with the meat sitting inside what looks like a buttery soft fresh roll (https://bit.ly/31ZivIJ). I seriously questioned whether or not they actually baked the bread themselves as that is how fresh it was. Afterall, a good sandwich starts & ends with good bread. The meat was lean, seasoned well & the juices were purposely left to soak in the bread (another sign of a person who knows how to make a good sandwich.)
The Philly Steak here almost can compete with one of my favorite places, but falls short in some areas. One critique is that the peppers, which they skimped out on, were completely missing on half of the sandwich. On the other hand, every ingredient stands out from the steak to the mayo, mozzarella, caramelized onions & bread as if there’s mini Baryshnikovs dancing on your tongue. A surprisingly delectable treat indeed!
"Had Chicago Philly Stop managed to not overcook the patty they definitely would’ve taken the throne on this day."
After experiencing the Philly Steak, I couldn’t wait to tear into the double gyro cheeseburger. The burger tempts me, the moist wax paper covering it is slightly ajar revealing its cleavage (https://bit.ly/2NjVf37). I pick up the burger, gently caressing its body while peeling back the layer of wax paper inch by inch…perfection. Once the wax paper is off, I notice the luxurious soft bun &…the single patty. It looks like they messed up the order even more. Looking at what they charged me, I did pay about $15.63 for what should’ve been a $20 order. Miscommunication happens & as long as I wasn’t overcharged or my order drastically different, they don’t lose any points.
American Cheddar cheese serves as the hairpiece for the patty, which is rather well done (a bit overcooked) while mayo, mustard, gyro meat & bits of lettuce round out the legs of the burger (https://bit.ly/31SwjoE) on an excellent fresh bun. In a surprising twist, mild sauce has been substituted for ketchup which is a bold choice considering these condiments don’t exactly work well with BBQ sauce. As stated earlier the beef patty was overcooked to the point of it being rather dry & hard in some areas. Nonetheless upon first bite I quickly realize why I fell in love with this dish as a child.
This gyro cheeseburger definitely beats my favorite west side gyro cheeseburger as that burger is made from those slightly weird chopped steak patties while this one is 100% lean ground beef. Had Chicago Philly Stop managed to not overcook the patty they definitely would’ve taken the throne on this day.
Overall, Chicago Philly Steak gives you bang for your buck. For a humble price you get one of the best Philly Steaks & Gyro Cheeseburgers in Chicago. The chef definitely knows his way around food. With the area becoming cleaner as time passes you don’t have to always be on the lookout for malicious individuals when you come in for a bite to eat as well (do be warned this IS Chicago though.) Service is acceptable as well although they messed up my order. My only wish with these types of places is that they be more welcoming by becoming actual restaurants with seating. A good idea would be to repurpose one of the many vacant buildings in the area for such a thing. Though growing up in these areas, I know exactly why they sit behind that bullet proof glass. Times are changing though & maybe it’s time these restaurants changed as well.
5 out of 5 stars
Chicago Philly Stop
1600 W Lake St Chicago, IL 60612