People often toss around the word "revelation," though rare is the food experience that truly rises to that level. But the moment I sunk my teeth into a cheesesteak from Twinsburg's Original Steaks & Hoagies, I knew that every future Philly I tasted would be compared to the one in my hands.
In Philadelphia, "steak shops" are found in every neighborhood, with some lucky blocks boasting more than one. The most famous pair — Geno's and Pat's — sit at the junction of Ninth and Passyunk, and while they are the best known, they are by no means the best.
Bill Fromholzer should know. For approximately 15 years he owned and operated multiple steak shops in Philadelphia. "Billy from Philly," as he's called, supported his family by selling tens of thousands of cheesesteaks. But it wasn't Fromholzer who decided to move 450 miles west and open up a shop in Twinsburg. It was his son, Bill Jr., who had spent much of his youth toiling in the family trade.
"Since the day he moved here 10 years ago, he has talked about opening up his own steak shop," says Bill Sr.
At his son's request, Dad relocated the family from Philly to Twinsburg to help launch Original Steaks. That was back in August, and already there's talk of expansion. Recently, the Fromholzers earned the right to sell their sandwiches at Canal Park during the 2011 Akron Aeros season.
"Our goal all along was to get people addicted to these sandwiches," jokes Bill Sr.
As with any classic dish, quality comes down to ingredients, technique, and passion. To be authentic, there is no wiggle room when it comes to what's inside. Cheesesteaks are made from 100 percent rib-eye and served on rolls from Philly-based Amoroso Bakery. Cheez Whiz is the preferred "cheese," but provolone is also acceptable. Fried onions are a take-it-or-leave-it option.
It's often technique that separates the good from the bad, and the Fromholzers are hitting it out of the park with each and every sandwich. Visitors to Pat's or Geno's might recall that sandwiches are made with large flanks of sliced steak. Original, by contrast, shaves the meat razor-thin and then chops it to bits on the griddle. The result is a filling that's surprisingly light, airy, and tender.
"Geno's and Pat's don't chop the meat, mostly because it's time-consuming," explains the elder Fromholzer. "But if you go two blocks away and further, pretty much everybody else chops it."
In another attempt to speed things up, ordering in Philly has been traditionally distilled to shorthand. While less critical in Twinsburg, the lingo is being gleefully adopted by regulars. Guests who want a large steak with Cheez Whiz and onions simply say "large, Whiz, wit." The "Yo!" is optional.
The soft but sturdy Amoroso roll is painted with Whiz and filled to the top with chopped meat. While odd-sounding, the Whiz is an ideal accompaniment because its mild flavor takes a back seat to the beef. Bits of browned onion, cooked along with the steak, add a touch of sweetness. One bite of this sandwich ($6.50 small/$7.75 large) and you, too, will be jonesing like a junkie.
Original also sells hoagies — which, says Bill Sr., are not just another name for a sub. "A hoagie is not a sub, is not a hero. It is a very different thing." Specifically, it's a cold sandwich loaded with Italian meats, cheeses, vegetables, and seasoned oil. On Thursdays, Original also sells juicy roast pork with sauteed broccoli raab ($8/$9), the only Philly sandwich that competes with the steak for attention.
Bay fries ($2) are thick fries dusted with Old Bay seasoning, and cheese fries ($2) are the same topped with Whiz. Tastykake packaged snacks, another Philly staple, are displayed on the counter for sale.
Like many authentic food classics, cheesesteaks offer a taste of home without the round-trip flight, says the younger Fromholzer.
"The best compliment we get is when people say, 'Man, I haven't had a sandwich this good since I was back in Philly!'"