My Philly now open and serving cheesesteaks in Tacoma: Ribeye, Amoroso’s & gooey cheese
That cling-clang diners can hear on the grill at a cheesesteak spot is better than any soundtrack in the dining room.
A few moments after finding a seat in the dining room at the new My Philly cheesesteak shop in Tacoma’s Salishan neighborhood, I heard that unmistakable tinny sound of the spatulas working the steak on the grill.
Clang – cling – clang.
Ribeye steak, thinly sliced? Check.
A tangle of peppers and onions? Check.
Amoroso’s roll? Check.
Gooey cheese? Check.
I’d like to give a big T-town welcome to the cheesesteaks at My Philly.
The cheesesteak and hoagie sandwich shop opened June 19 by a farflung family with ties to both the Seattle area and Philadelphia.
Co-owner Dwane Butler said he and his wife Victoria Hunter opened the shop with Butler’s cousin, Dalita Kalehuloa and her husband Torrence Moffett. Their daughter Imani Moffett also works at My Philly.
This Black-owned business is a multi-generational dream from a family with roots in Philadelphia. Butler and Kalehuloa point to their grandpa, Ernest Tackett, as one of the inspirations for their Salishan sandwich shop.
“My grandpa and grandma had eight kids. My mother is the youngest of eight. She’s the only one who was born in Washington. All the others were born back East. Dalita, my first cousin, her mom is the second youngest and she was born on the East Coast. My grandpa was a military policeman, so the family moved around.”
After their grandfather retired from the military, he worked for Bar S, the meat company. Butler recalls his grandfather and grandmother were hosts to enormous family gatherings and home cooking fueled those family gatherings.
“We have such a big family. During the week, we never ate meat during the week. It wouldn’t be big proteins. It’d be like cabbage and ham hocks, turkey tails and greens, beans and rice, things like that – that would stretch. There were always 16 people in our house at all times. It was huge. The front door was never locked. There was somebody always up and always somebody there. We didn’t have much growing up, but we had a lot of love. That centered the foundation of who we are as first cousins.”
GROWING UP IN A FOOD FAMILY
As adults, the two cousins often reminisced about eating at the grandparents’ home and their food memories from Philadelphia.
“Dalita always mentioned that my grandpa wanted to have his kids open a sandwich shop. The kids never did, but here we are, the grandkids, doing what he wanted his kids to do.”
The family pooled their own cash to start the business. They took out no loans to open the doors of My Philly.
They also invested a lot of time and research into making sure they nail the details and consistency of their recipes.
That speaks to Butler’s background as a chef. He’s worked an entire career in food service, spending a majority of that career working as a chef at a hospital food service company. He also is the founder of Child to Chef, a kid cooking program that, before the pandemic, operated at the Renton and Seattle School Districts and the Kent Community Center. Butler intends to restart the Child to Chef program when school resumes in the fall.
As for Kalehuloa, when she first moved to the Seattle area from Philadelphia, she immediately got a job at a sandwich shop called Philly’s Best. When Kalehuloa and her husband moved to Tacoma in recent years, they noticed a lack of spots for Philly cheesesteaks.
Straight From Philly closed in 2020, but Go Philly now has two locations and other than All Star Philly in the Oakland neighborhood and Legendz in Central Tacoma, there are few places that specialize in three or four different kinds of cheesesteak sandwiches and loaded fries like a diner would find in Philadelphia.
THE MY PHILLY FORMULA
Enter My Philly, which stays true to the Philly formula, but with a few family touches, said Butler.
“I found a distributor who distributes the same meat as a favorite Philly destination for cheesesteaks. We’re using the same meat as Pat’s cheesesteaks,” he said. That’s thinly sliced ribeye that’s grilled until it has sizzled edges.
The spicing is where things get interesting. “Traditionally around here, they’ll use Johnny’s or Lawry’s or just salt and pepper. For me, that’s boring and I didn’t want our sandwich to taste the same. I’ve come up with a rub especially for our steaks. We portion it out, so that every steak tastes the same.”
He added, “It’s flavor packed, but not salt packed. It has paprika and that changes the color of the meat and adds a little smokiness to it.” Other than that, he’s not giving up the other secret ingredients.
What I bit into was just as he described, “flavor packed.”
The rolls, of course, are from the Amoroso’s bakery, which every Philly cheesesteak spot must have if it wants to withstand the taunting of a Philly ex-pat at the counter. “There’s no other choice but Amoroso,” he said.
THE MENU AT MY PHILLY
And speaking of those Philly transplants, Butler had this to say, “People from Philly will recognize our menu. They are basically traditional East Coast sandwich styles. Those names are all over Philadelphia, and there is a familiarity for East Coasters. They’ll know these when they see them – a mushroom cheesesteak; a cheesesteak hoagie; a pizza steak.”
They have all the usual Philly cheesesteak suspects on the menu. Sandwiches are served in half ($7.99) or whole portions ($11.99) and menu choices included a cheesesteak, mushroom cheesesteak, pepper cheesesteak and a cheesesteak hoagie.
There’s also a deluxe cheesesteak with the works for $12.99.
For those who skip beef, there’s also chicken cheesesteaks, which the family marinates and slices by hand. Those come in the same configurations as the beef versions, just made with chicken.
On those beef cheesesteak sandwiches, the cheese is white American, and is tucked deep into the sandwich under the tangle of grilled ribeye and peppers.
The half-size cheesesteak came with more-than-a-meal portion sizes with an enormous pile of sizzle-edged ribeye mixed up with grilled onions and peppers spilling out of the channel down the center of the Amoroso. Buried underneath all that meat was that gooey white American cheese.
I bit into the pepper-cheesesteak and was rewarded with sweet-and-spicy bits sweetening and spicing up that ribeye. The mushroom steak got a meaty boost from grilled mushrooms with crisped edges. The grilling at My Philly is expertly done.
And about those fries.
The one thing I really miss from Straight From Philly, which operated from 2018 to 2020 in downtown Tacoma, was the loaded fries.
At My Philly, the choices are streamlined with one version piled with nacho cheese sauce that the family doctors with a little extra spice ($4.99), and another topped with the gooey-melty nacho cheese and chopped steak ($7.99). There’s also a chicken version ($6.99).
The fries are crinkle-cut, which Butler likes because “they hold their heat and shape longer.” The blocky fries, indeed, arrived molten hot with a river of nacho cheese.
Get in there soon.
Where: 4314 Portland Ave. E., Tacoma; 253-301-2022
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