Cheesesteak Experience: Proud Philly Natives Bring Authentic Cheesesteaks to South Florida
John Straus stands at the gargantuan grill and throws a mound of shredded red meat down which sizzles when it makes contact with the metal. He sprinkles some grilled onions on too and quickly tosses the blend around with the spatula. The meat and onions begin to brown and white smoke wafts around him. Straus confidently flips the spatula in the air and catches it without flinching.
All photos taken by Jess Swanson. This is not a dramatization.
"Whiz wit, right?" the young cook asks me anxiously. He's incomprehensible and I stare at him blankly like a tourist from another country. "With cheese whiz and onions right?" Straus repeats again, but slower and with better enunciation. I feel like an idiot and nod.
Straus and his family don't mind, they're used to it. They moved to South Florida from Philadelphia six years ago. During that time they have tried to keep their environment from shaping them as they aim to bring the community the most authentic Philly Cheesesteak outside of Pennsylvania at their small eatery, Chessesteak Experience. Besides it's reassuring to hear the staff speaking in their native tongue. It's definitely an experience.
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John's parents, Jeff and Bobbie Straus, started selling authentic Philly cheesesteaks at the Festival Flea Market. But at the beginning of July, they uprooted from their shop of six years and opened up in the Galt Ocean Mile area.
"It's in a better location," Bobbie Straus says. "We get a lot of Pennsylvanians that love to come here. No one else in Florida [is] from Philly and does this."
Their tiny outpost is a slice of Philadelphia. The walls are lined with framed photos and drawings of the City of Brotherly Love. In fact, on John's lower left leg there is a tattoo of the famed liberty bell. "We're from Philly and we wear it proud," he tells me lifting up his pant leg.
The Straus' are meticulous about making their cheese steaks authentic. They get their bread shipped from Amorosa Bakery in Philadelphia and they serve each sandwich with over a half pound of sirloin beef.
"No one leaves here hungry," owner Jeff Straus says confidently.