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Apr 18, 2012 10:25 AM

Hero, Hoagies, Grinders, Cheesesteaks?

Toronto does a lot of low-brow take-out foods quite well, from char-dogs to T.O. style burritos, to Banh-Mi, to Doubles to Samosas to Shawarma to Gyros to Chinese BBQ, etc.

BUT, I have yet to find places here in T.O. that really do great Heroes, Hoagies, Grinders, or Cheesesteaks!

I've been spoiled in my travels to enjoy a Chicago Beef with giardinere, and Kelly's Boston Beef, NY Italian Heroes and Meatball Grinders, plus Philly Roast Pork & Rapini, and cheesesteaks.

Yes I've enjoyed sandwiches at Stockyards and Buster Rhino's, etc., but I'm really looking for the real-deal decadent long-roll that's light, yet crusty and loaded with italian cold-cuts lettuce tomato and oil& vinegar, or maybe toasted and a little crunchy with tender meatballs and sharp provolone, or freshly griddled prime-rib with onions and melted cheese - the real deal!

So help me out, have I missed them or do we really not have them? Do I really have to open my own shop to bring hoagies & grinders to Toronto? :-)

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    1. re: TorontoJo

      Actually, no, that was Hulker, and he was looking for cold-cut sandwiches, but I did comment on that post. But I'll be sure to be on-patrol for any of your repetitive comments or questions though. :-)

      1. re: TorontoTips

        Fair enough. :)

        Sadly, Toronto doesn't seem to do any good variations on the hot beef sandwich. I grew up in Chicago and still miss the Italian beef sandwiches that used to fill my stomach on a regular basis. Spiros at Food Cabbie does one, but if it's anything like the one he used to serve at Chicago Pizza Kitchen, it's a tasty sandwich, but nothing like the real thing -- the bun is wrong, the beef is cut too thick and not dripping with juices and the seasonings are missing something.

        Philly cheesesteaks definitely don't exist here. It's so bad that a friend of mine has resorted to making her own from scratch. There is some place up in Orangeville that supposedly serves up a real Philly cheesesteak, but I'm not sure I'm up for that trek yet!

        1. re: TorontoJo

          Thanks, Jo.
          1) I didn't realize that CPK's Spiro was the same as Food Cabbie! I enjoyed his Italian Beef when I first had it, it wasn't perfect, but better than what I have found locally. Sadly quality started to slip very quickly, probably due to low volume, and then they vanished.

          2) I checked out the Orangeville cheesesteak place, Philadelphia Kitchen, and same story: ok, but not super-authentic. Wrong bread, top-round instead of ribeye, and mozz instead of provolone, but still a good sangwich. :-) The meatballs are quite good, but I found the bun too narrow and pointed, not enough of a platform, plus with the cheese slices casually thrown on top, it was unwieldy to eat, even though it wasn't that big. Worth a stop if you're in the neighbourhood, but not travel-worthy.

          3) In the super-low-brow category, there's a decent prime-rib beef-dip sandwich on a kaiser at the tacky Orchid-Garden Restaurant in the tacky Agincourt Mall in scarberia if someone is looking for a beef fix. It's very moist, very wet, hand-carved prime rib on a run-of-the-mill kaiser. Note that this is diner prime-rib, not like a dry-aged AAA beef, but with the jus for dipping and horseradish, it's a great burger alternative and a guilty pleasure :-)

          1. re: TorontoJo

            Yeah, I went to a place here in Pickering that had Philly Cheesesteaks on the menu, even had a picture of one in their takeout menu (which looked correct), so I thought MAYBE these guys would get it close since, I figure they'd serve something resembling that picture. I wasn't expecting perfection, but what I got was so wrong it was disgusting. And wasn't anything like the picture!

            I got what was essentialy beef souvlaki (so, large CHUNKS of GRILLED beef, not sauteed thin slices of steak) with sauteed onions (over-cooked that they were caramelized and almost black), mushrooms, and green peppers (so, more veggies than meat), doused in sickly sweet BBQ sauce, with large thick slices of mystery white cheese (seemed like mozzarella, definitely wasn't provolone), all put in a cheap roll that got soggy in short order from all the water coming from that mess.

            If you're gonna call it a Philly cheesesteak, it should look and taste like the genuine article. This was an abomination. Like it's so hard to go online and look up the recipe and get it right....

            1. re: TexSquared

              Gotta agree, Tex, real philly chessesteak almost never come with peppers, (except for hot ones, if you ask) and are not shaved roast beef, they are fresh ribeye from the griddle and topped 'wit' onions if you like, and either cheez whiz or real sharp provolone, as you wish.
              Why Toronto calls any roast beef sandwich with green peppers & mozz a "philly" is beyond me. :-)

              Just a note - Philadelphia Kitchen was good, and would kick the butt of your Pickering joint, despite just a few too many compromises from the authentic philly joints. It's good, but it ain't Carmen's, Gooey Louie's, Chink's, John's Roast Pork or DeNic's :-)

              1. re: TorontoTips

                A roast beef sandwich as you described would have been an improvement over the garbage I got. At least I could say "he was thinking Philly but executed Buffalo or Chicago instead...." :-)

                Once I've tried a few more items on their menu (this was a "jack of all trades master of none" local joint) I'll probably give them a 1 or 2 star review on Yelp, since authenticity is of utmost importance to me. If you call it Philly it better look and taste like they serve in Philly, but in fairness I'm not ready to dismiss the entire restaurant off of one item. This isn't like a Chinese Sushi place where 3/4 of the menu is monster truck rolls from hell, which means it gets zero stars just by reading the menu.

      2. Maybe not in Toronto, but there is a place in Kitchener that seems to be making an authentic Philly cheesesteak. A Taste Of Philly is downtown on King Street.

        11 Replies
        1. re: pulguksa

          Thanks for the tip, but I checked out their website - looks anything BUT authentic to me... see photos below of the Kitchener Sandwich & a couple of REAL Philly Cheesesteaks:

            1. re: TorontoTips

              For me, the next best thing to a philly cheesesteak (read: not a philly cheesesteak) is at Tavolino. They have a mighty tasty steak sandwich. Get the hot pepper sauce added. An extra once or 2 of meat would be nice but it is delicious.

              1. re: justsayn

                If you want steak on a kaiser, I haven't found any better than Massey's in Pickering, though The Real McCoy is pretty close. Here's Massey's version:

                1. re: TorontoTips

                  That looks great!! Thanks. Tavolino is actually closer to philly style as it isn't chargrilled.

            2. re: TorontoTips

              That first image (the "poseur") looks like something you'd get at Subway.... Philly cheesesteaks do NOT come topped with salad!

              1. re: TexSquared

                Sorry guys... Re: Taste of Philly Cheesteak in Kitchener - don't knock til you've tried it. At least in this case...

                Sure, Taste of Philly Cheesesteak does have some "non-traditional" toppings (lettuce, roasted red peppers, pickles, etc.) for the uninitiated, but they are offered afterward as a choice. (I personally don't bother) They also have "sauces" eg: garlic, chipotle mayo, etc. Certainly not traditional, but quite good. Their standard cheesteak comes with Steak, grilled onions, grilled green pepper (no thanks for me) and cheese. They do not offer provolone or whiz, but have cheddar, mozz and jalapeno havarti (pretty good) Overall a SOLID 8 out of 10 IMHO, and better than anything you can find in T.O., from my experience (lived there all my life and travel back at least twice a month)

                Definitely worth a try if you're headed out this way.

                1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                  OK Assuming we are coming from Toronto--where is this place?

                  1. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                    Not traditional, not authentic, not worth the trip from Toronto. Sorry. It's like telling me to eat at Ichiban for "traditional Japanese cuisine". Might be "pretty good" to you but not to someone looking for the genuine article.

                    Philly cheesesteaks don't have grilled ANYTHING in them. The onions (and/or peppers and/or mushrooms, if ordered) are fried with the steaks on the flat top.

                    A simple online search will reveal how simple this dish is to clone, and yet locals here insist on screwing around with tradition:


                    1. re: TexSquared

                      uh...sorry Tex. Didn't mean to mislead. By grilled I meant griddled. All on a flat top. No need to check the links. Have eaten cheesesteak in Philly many times.

                      BTW... would never bother with Pats or Ginos. Strictly for tourists, IMHO.

                      Jim's on South St. is my personal choice.

                      Taste of Philly does not use Ribeye (though it would be nice...) still his finished product is very good. and nothing to scoff at. Perhaps not worth a special trip from T.O., but a worthwhile stop if you're in the area. I have never had a better cheesesteak in T.O. ( not that THAT is saying much...)

                      Of course take it (advice) with a grain of salt. It's from a guy who wouldn't touch Pat's or Gino's. Or Ichiban for that matter. LOL

                    2. re: kwfoodiewannabe

                      Shouldn't knock anything until tried, and sometimes more than once! Thanks for the review!!

              2. Back in the Ghetto days of Gerrard Scare There was The Steak Company run by this old chinese dude. It was actually pretty authentic, Shaved steak on the griddle with your choice of peppers, onions or mushrooms REAL provolone cheese. (and not the cheapo kind that tastes a little of vomit) not a scrap of lettuce or tomato to be seen. When i was living out in Alberta and saw what the local diner saw as a cheese steak I dreamed of it but when I got back Gerrard scare was all revitalized and the food court filled with crappy chains. :(

                3 Replies
                1. re: LexiFirefly

                  This thread has been running through my head all day! I've ordered a steak sandwich for lunch hoping that'll help my craving!!!

                  1. re: LexiFirefly

                    It's killing me, too! :-) I may even have to drive to Orangeville for "the next best thing" to a Philly, I guess!
                    I gotta find me a small take-out joint that's on it's last legs, and create the CheeseSteaks, Italian Hoagies, and Meatball Grinders of my dreams :-)
                    I've not been impressed with Hey Meatball, either - have you?
                    Anyplace else? Anyone?
                    HELP! :-)

                    1. re: TorontoTips

                      Tips... I guess I didn't realize how difficult finding a decent Philly Cheesesteak would be.

                      Not sure how far Orangeville is for you, but I am confident that Taste of Philly will be better than anything you have had elsewhere in Ontario., so if KW is not too much of an excursion, I suppose it is worth a try.

                      If you really love Philly cheesesteak, it's the closest I've tasted to Philly. Better than Gino's or Pat's for sure (they are terrible IMO)

                      You might invite Tex to come along too. Hold the lettuce. LOL

                2. I've had the Philly Cheesesteak from The Food Cabbie. I thought it was fantasticly tasty. The only caveat to that is I've never had something that someone would consider "Best." Having never been to Philly. Spiros uses a canned cheddar cheese sauce that's actually pretty tasty.
                  I will say that there is a small chain in Phoenix where I had a very tasty Cheesesteak and some experts said that by the picture it looked pretty authentic. The only deficiency may have been they didn't hollow out the bun.