Has anyone else noticed an influx of cheesesteak eateries in Sarasota? There are so many choices now, I decided to take an eating tour of five spots where you can get your Philly on, and I brought along my partner in crime, my nephew, the rapper Charlie Cooper. Here's what we found:
7523 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 926-0441, gentilesteaks.com
Thank you Elise Ramer for introducing us to our favorite cheesesteak, made with provolone and juicy shaved steak drippings packed in a true Philly roll. Gentile Bros. only offers a few other items, making this authentic enough to get top billing, especially with bread flown in from Philly. Be prepared to know what you want and how to order it—with onions and provolone for us, but you can also add hot or sweet peppers at no additional charge.
2854 Ringling Blvd., Sarasota, (941) 366-2221
One of the oldest establishments offering a taste of Philly, Charlie's makes no-frills, darn-good cheesesteaks balanced with melted white American (one step up from Cheez Whiz) and sautéed diced onions. Founder Angelo Charlie Covino would be proud of the next generation holding down the tradition of making a tasty cheesesteak, made even more authentic by the age of the seasoned grill.
987 S. Packinghouse Road, Sarasota, (941) 371-9358, packinghousecafe.com
It may not be traditional, but this juicy Cuban-style Philly is stuffed with pulled mojo pork and homemade queso and topped with diced tomatoes and cilantro. It is hearty, stuffed into Cuban bread with queso dripping onto your chin at first bite.
5442 Lockwood Ridge Road, Bradenton, (941) 752-4192; 5942 34th St. W., Bradenton, (941) 727-7339; 1439 Main St., Sarasota, (941) 330-8208; thecheapestwaytophilly.com
We tried a traditional and a "Garlic Bomb" made with shaved ribeye meat on garlic bread, with grilled onions and hot—and we mean hot—peppers, plus fresh garlic and parmesan. It was a bit overwhelming, but it remains the restaurant's No. 1 seller. The traditional is pretty close to ideal, but we're hoping they can offer sweet peppers, since the spicy ones overwhelm the cheesesteak essence.
4944 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 893-4600, kruks.com
Phillies legend John Kruk found his next game after retiring to Naples. He missed true Philly cheesesteaks and so decided to ship in bread and Whiz from Philly and open his own. We were a little apprehensive at first, but Kruk's is doing their founder proud. While not a fan of Whiz, we went for it and would return for the shaved ribeye goodness any time.
Sample some of my nephew's hot bars here: