It’s easy to find a Philly Cheese Steak in Norwalk or, really, just about anywhere outside of Philadelphia, which gave birth to the culinary curiosity in the 1930s.
But now anyone from Philly can feel right at home at 336 Westport Avenue in Norwalk because Philly Cheese Steak aficionado Tim Allabashi has taken a major career detour to make the real deal in a spanking new stainless steel kitchen at newly-opened Tim's Philly Steaks.
He’s grilling paper-thin slices of steak, and piling it on warmed bakery buns slathered with Cheez Whiz and grilled onions and the crowds will beg for more.
“This is truly authentic,” Allabashi said just prior to the official opening on Tuesday, when he was already turning customers away as he attended to last-minute details. “The ingredients all come from Philadelphia,” he explained.
That includes the whole muscle rib-eye steak (it arrives shaved but raw from the Philadelphia supplier) and the rolls, prepared in a Philadelphia bakery that serves the dozens of local eateries that compete for the ranking of most authentic Philly Cheese Steak.
Spanish onions – "neither over-done nor under-done" – are cooked in olive oil on the griddle.
The piece de resistance - “Cheez Whiz” manufactured by Kraft - arrives in bulky cans.
Allabashi says his establishment fills a culinary vacuum.
“There’s nothing like it here,” he insists. “In this area, the meat is chopped and formed from any part of the animal.”
And New York-style Philly Cheese Steak buns are bigger and harder – “gum-bleeders” he calls them.
“No other roll is like it,” he says, speaking of the superior Philadelphia version.
Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, 20 minutes from Philadelphia, Allabashi recalls wistfully, “We grew up on these sandwiches.”
Along with the eating experience, he developed a Philadelphian’s sense of loyalty and boosterism toward the sandwich.
Although it is possible to substitute Provolone or American cheese for the Kraft version, one can lose favor with the locals by asking for Swiss cheese.
When John Kerry was on the campaign trail in 2004, running for the Presidency, he indelicately asked for Swiss cheese on his during a photo op in Philadelphia.
“It sank him! They almost killed him!” Allabashi says of the news media fervor which followed. “Swiss cheese does not belong on a Philly Cheese Steak!”
“Rather than showing he was at one with the working class, he showed he was a fish out of water.”
Allabashi will freshly prepare all orders, custom, from behind the glass wall on the counter of his new eatery, which he describes as part deli, part fast-food and part sit-down dining, with seating for 20.
“I’m just a guy that likes to eat and share the experience with everybody else,” he explains. “I live to eat, not eat to live.”
Ironically, Allabashi’s first job after college was working as a runner in the ”beef pit” of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, delivering tickets on the commodities exchange for cattle and hogs awaiting their fates at the stockyards.
He went on to earn his B.A. from Vanderbilt and tried his hand in the hedge fund world until jobs collapsed in the current recession.
Allabashi lives in Easton with his wife, Susan, who’s expecting their first child in March. She’s a talented decorative artist who painted the giant logo on the yellow counter wall and all the walls as well.
The menu is broader than just Philly Cheese Steaks: chicken and pork cheese steaks are featured, as well as a veggie steak, hoagies, salads and sides. Tim’s Philly Steaks is open seven days a week from10:30 AM to 9 PM. Tel. 203-939-1838. The website is under construction, www.timsphillysteaks.com. Allabashi has plans for a “grand opening” in about one month, after early kinks are worked out by the new restaurateur.