Philly Flavor in Silver Spring

Feb. 10, 2006, midnight | By Ethan Kuhnhenn | 15 years, 10 months ago

Three restaurants that have made a new home for the Steak and Cheese

The cheese steak is an American classic. A native of Philadelphia, this greasy but delicious sub is often the staple of delicatessens, sandwich shops and restaurants across the nation. While the Philly cheese steak has transcended the Philadelphia city limits and can now be found nearly everywhere, is it possible for a steak and cheese to possess the same flavor, succulence and aura outside its Philly home?

One evening, I set out to find if any of our local delis or sandwich chains could successfully emulate the classic Philly sub, a flaky roll overstuffed with steaming slices of steak, dripping cheese, onions and hot peppers. My quest took me into the heart of Silver Spring, where I discovered a bitter rivalry between several competing sub-makers.

My first stop was the Potbelly's sandwich shop on Ellsworth drive in downtown Silver Spring. A newcomer to the Silver Spring area, Potbelly's offers a variety of subs, sandwiches and deserts. Potbelly's is a sandwich chain, so it not only had to prove that it could make a decent cheese steak, but also that it possessed some character that separated it from other franchises.

The hallmark of Potbelly's is its big toaster oven that all the sandwiches run through to get the toasted taste. This taste, along with the quality of meat is what Melissa, the manager of the store, said makes Potbelly's the best place in town to get a cheese steak. After the cheese steak runs through the oven it is topped with spicy peppers and sweet onions, just a couple of the "add-ons" one could select. The hot peppers give the sandwich a kick and the sweet onions balance out the taste. A flaky, fresh roll finishes off the sandwich.

Eating in the restaurant is also an experience. While I was trying to gulp down the hot peppers, I realized that we were being serenaded by a lone guitarist jamming out R&B tunes in a loft overlooking the restaurant. These sort of pleasant surprises are what Potbelly's is all about: interesting music, a casual atmosphere and surprisingly great cheese steaks.

Next, I decided to visit a family-owned deli to see if small-time sandwich makers could compete with the new franchises that pepper Silver Spring area. Santucci's seemed perfect; a family-owned deli which has been operating in the Four Corners shopping mall for over 16 years. The manager at Santucci's seemed quite hostile to the franchises that were encroaching on his terrain (Jerry's is across the street and subway is right next door). After I told him what I was writing about, he told me bluntly that all of the franchises' sandwiches "sucked". He explained that Santucci's used "better stuff" and that each sub was put together by somebody who actually knew what he was doing, not by "some kid who doesn't really know how to make a sandwich." "I've been here for nine years," he added, "I know."

Santucci's steak and cheese really looked authentic. The sub was a full 10 inches, and was dripping with onions, peppers and provolone cheese. The sandwich also tasted great. It wasn't as salty as Potbelly's subs and the cheese and meat had more of a distinct and succulent flavor. The only problem was the bread, which had a spongy quality and was a little dry.

The Santucci's manager had already expressed his dislike of jerry's Subs and pizza, another franchise across the street, but I had to taste for myself. Blair students often visit Jerry's after school, but is it the cheap price (most six/eight inch subs are under $5) or good sandwiches that draw the crowds? Jerry's had by far the best selection of cheese steaks. Where Potbelly's only had the toasted roast beef sub, and Santucci's only had one version of the steak and cheese, jerry had three types of cheese steaks.

Jerry's eight-inch Philly Cheese Steak had the most flavor out of the three subs that I tried. It was also the greasiest; coincidence? The first thing that jumped out is the cheese, which was American, instead of provolone and covered just about everything. Crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes covered the melted cheese, and on top of that, you can decide how much of the onions and pickled peppers you want (there are an assortment of condiments). The peppers and onions were sweeter than those at Potbelly's and Santucci's, and this added contrast to the salty, greasy and rich meat and cheese.

Had I the time or stomach to continue, I would have sampled every steak and cheese in town. However, having eaten at three of the most popular establishments, I can conclude that even though Silver Spring isn't South Philly, there are enough sub shops, delis, and sandwich joints to satisfy anyone's desire for cheese steak. The most authentic Philly cheese steak can be found at Santucci's. As for the tastiest, you can find it right across the street at Jerry's Subs and Pizza.

Potbelly's is located at 917 Ellsworth Dr. in downtown Silver Spring.

Santucci's Deli is located at 10107 Colesville Rd. in the Four Corner's Shopping center.

Jerry's Subs and Pizza is located at 10 University Blvd. West, right across from the Four corner's Shopping Center.

Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »

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