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Lunchbox: Straight Out of Philly

Published On: Apr 07 2014 12:13:05 PM AKDT   Updated On: Apr 07 2014 12:17:20 PM AKDT
Lunchbox: Straight Out of Philly

Lunchbox: Straight Out of Philly(1)

Straight Out of Philly serves this teriyaki Philly cheesesteak with fries, ($10.95) including grilled onions, mushrooms and teriyaki sauce. Side substitutions are available for $2.50; soda cans cost $1.50 each.

Straight Out of Philly
210 E. Fireweed Ln.
$6-$14 per plate
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday

When you work in a newsroom some restaurant names come up fairly often, as crews mention where they’ve stopped for lunch in the field. Curious about one of them, I recently headed into Midtown for a visit.

Straight Out of Philly is one of several low-key eateries tucked away along Fireweed Lane, its modest exterior easily missed amid the eclectic mix of strip malls, office parks and modest landscaping to separate the two that make up much of Fireweed’s commercial presence. Sitting at the east end of a small strip mall, its parking area is equally modest, with perhaps half a dozen spaces up front and perhaps that many more along curbs in the immediate area.

Stepping inside, I was reminded of the utilitarian feel of Sara’s Sandwiches on Arctic Boulevard, a shop similarly geared to a bustling takeout and delivery business. A few booths along the front wall of a small dining area and some tables in the center seat perhaps 20 people at capacity, but much of the room is dominated by coolers loaded up with drinks and prepacked salads. A lone TV on the wall was showing ESPN women’s basketball when I stopped by, the only customer in the room after the traditional lunch rush hours.

As might be expected from the name, Straight Out of Philly’s menu is built around more than 20 versions of the Philadelphia cheesesteak sandwich, almost all priced identically; most simply emphasize a single added ingredient or condiment, but a few variants use chicken rather than steak, with a token all-veggie version at the bottom of the list. There’s also a selection of burgers, sandwiches, chicken wings and fingers, rounded out by a few salad and dessert options, but I stayed with the place’s core specialty -- the kitchen was out of sun-dried tomatoes for one of the Philly versions on offer, so I instead asked for a teriyaki Philly ($10.95). The lone chef sounded busy with other takeout orders, but I had a basket set down before me in about 15 minutes.

It seems to be an unspoken tenet among cheesesteak aficionados that cheaper cheeses make better sandwiches, with some even swearing by Cheez Whiz, so I wasn’t taken aback to find two freshly melted squares of processed American cheese topping a generous pile of meat and bread. In a technique I’ve also seen at Table 6 and Sis’s Café and Catering, the hefty and well-made loaf had a wedge cut out of its top rather than being split along its side, allowing it to carry the Philly’s wet and messy ingredients without leaking. It wasn’t until I tore into it, however, that I found out just how well the simple ingredient list worked together -- the way the teriyaki sauce seemed cooked in rather than merely poured on, binding together the dish with its salty sweetness soaked up by bits of mushrooms and grilled onions, all accompanied by a hint of richness from the fast-melting cheese which suffused every bite.

The cheesesteak was a meal in itself and the side and dessert offerings looked modest, so I stuck with the standard portion of fries served alongside each Philly on the menu. While they didn’t look handmade they were a good selection to accompany the sandwich, slightly thicker than usual restaurant fries and cooked in a little less salt to a consistent golden brown. The menu offers chips in lieu of them, but they’re plenty good enough to keep their place in the basket -- substitutions can be made, however, with options including a dinner salad or onion rings available for $2.50.

I’m glad I stopped by Straight Out of Philly, since I’m always on the lookout for good takeout restaurants in Anchorage. Like Tommy’s Burger Stop, International House of Hot Dogs and Inka’s Chicken, the dining area is minimal but the food’s got it where it counts, with a slightly higher-than-average price more than compensated for by large portion sizes and one of the best steak sandwiches of any kind I’ve eaten in recent memory. The restaurant also takes orders for delivery (with a minimum of $12 in nearby areas and $20 for the rest of the city), so if you’d like to try a Philly off the menu you might just call and ask for one straight out of Midtown.