I was neither born nor raised in West Philadelphia, but like anybody, I rather enjoy chillin' out, maxin', relaxin' all cool and shootin' some B-ball outside of the school, as well as, of course, eating Philly cheese steaks. But I was a little intimidated before heading to Walsh's Authentic Philly Cuisine on Stickney Point. Ignorant of the specifics, I had gotten all kinds of advice about what precisely makes a cheese steak a cheese steak. Listen for the clatter of the cook chopping up beef on the flattop, I was told, and beware any sandwich that doesn't come drenched in Cheez Whiz. Cheez Whiz? What have I gotten myself into?
Walsh's has the Philadelphia sports theme down pat, with Phillies gear, an Eagles banner and a Flyers jersey all tacked up around the interior. But curiously, there's no love for the 76ers, a team that is already one of the surprise success stories of the young NBA season. They're in fourth place in the East! They deserve some attention.
The sports theme runs deep, and a variety of TVs blare forth with a variety of ESPN sub-channels. La-Z-Boy recliners are parked in front of one of the televisions, while furry office chairs and vinyl table covers complete the restaurant's highly unpretentious look.
We're a table of three today — me plus ex-colleagues Brian and Danielle — and we're starving, so we order a smattering of sandwiches: a classic cheese steak "wit' Whiz" ($8.50); a chicken cheese steak with lettuce, tomato and onion ($8.75); and a sandwich whose very name demands it be consumed, "Walsh's WTF ?!?" ($9.95). What comes in a WTF, you ask? Beef and Whiz, of course, plus bacon and scrapple, a salty combination of hog offal, cornmeal and flour. Yum.
Walsh's serves its drinks in Pepsi cups large enough to drown in, and the food comes out in plastic red baskets lined with greasy wax paper. It's a no-fuss kind of place, and the food reflects that. The WTF is exactly what the menu says it is, no more. The beef gets buried by the big flavor of the crispy scrapple, but the sandwich delivers that gooey mouth feel that all great Philly sandwiches possess. It's too salty, but it's scrapple and bacon on a bun — what do you expect?
And while I was terrified of eating Cheez Whiz, turns out Walsh's doesn't use Whiz from a can — it makes its own. Artisanal Cheez Whiz? You heard it hear first, folks. The homemade Whiz has a pretty mellow profile, its role in the sandwich more textural than flavorful.
When I return, I might opt for the straight-up Philly instead of the WTF. It's got that same great gooeyness, but the beef flavor is able to shine a bit more, and when paired with sautéed onions and mushrooms, it's mighty fine. The chicken 'wich is tasty enough if you're beef-averse, but there's not really any other reason to order it. Unless, of course, you're striving to pretend to eat healthier and you want to count the lettuce and tomatoes as a salad.
Amid conversation about the struggles of working while raising kids, I strain my ears to see if I can hear the clatter of the flattop. The kitchen is hidden behind the tiki-styled bar in the rear of the place, so it's not an in-your-face noise. But yes, there it is, metal on metal, chop, chop, chop. I've never been to Philly, and so can't verify whether Welsh's is the real deal, but from what I've heard, all signs point to yes.
Walsh's Authentic Philly Cuisine
2704 Stickney Point Road, Sarasota
923-0700 or 923-0744
This is the umpteenth entry in a weekly column dedicated to eats that are cheap. If you have an idea for a place to feature in Cheap Eats, comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter:@LeveyBaker.