Billadephia’s bills itself as an authentic — not Philly-like but authentic — Philadelphia food experience.
Operating out of Bedford for years, the restaurant focuses on big, delicious sandwiches in a Philly-friendly atmosphere, meaning there’s a lot of Philly sports memorabilia on the walls. Billadelphia’s recently opened second location, in Arlington, continues the trend. The place is small, about the size of a boxing ring, and just about every inch of wall space is covered in framed photos of famous Philly entertainment and sports icons, plus sports memorabilia, like Rick Tochett’s Flyers sweater and Jeremiah Trotter’s Eagles shirt.
Other than a counter and grill, the rest of the joint belongs to a gigantic TV — a recent Sunday afternoon visit found a handful of folks in Eagles garb soaking in the cathode rays and responding in a rather subdued, OK, downright drowsy, fashion to the onscreen action between the Philly team and the Jets. (The Birds won 16-9.) The quietude was a little troubling. Eagles fans are supposed to be some of the loudest, rowdiest, and most boisterous around — I prayed that Billadelphia’s sammies and other goodies were more stereotypically Philadelphian than its Eagles fans. Even more impressive than God’s boob-tube were the mini-TVs atop the four booths. Each person gets his or her own screen. As you look across the table and over your dining companion’s shoulder, he or she looks over yours. Would the setup make for a romantic first, second, or, heck, 50th date? Absa-freaking-lutely not. But for foodies who dig sports, it’s win-win.
For food-and-sports fans, the inescapable TVs will be an even bigger plus in 2009, with the opening of the Cowboys’ new stadium — it’s practically within a post pattern of the restaurant. But we’ll have to wait and see whether ’Pokes fans will feel comfortable in the shadows of small shrines to Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and other Philadelphian jocks who for years have bedeviled the Cowboys, the Mavericks, and the Stars. Homer foodies might not care — they’re prone to shutting out the rest of the world to concentrate on the culinary task at hand. They’ll likely have no problem being consumed by the delectable consumables at Billadelphia’s, starting with that ol’ Philly standby, the cheesesteak. Now, 10 different people will tell you 10 different ways that cheesesteaks should be made, and maybe they’re all good. As someone who’s spent a few years on South Street — Philly’s answer to Deep Ellum — I’ve tried a lot of different styles, and I’m with most of the locals, who order theirs with no lettuce, no tomato, and no onions but lotsa ’shrooms and Cheez-Whiz. End of story.
Naturally, the quality of the result depends largely on the quality of beef, and Billadelphia’s was as good as any I’ve tasted anywhere. Juicy, chewy (but not bubblegum-chewy), and with that greasy-grill, burnt-onion smell, Billadelphia’s beef came in a heap. The huge, authentic Amoroso Italian roll couldn’t begin to hold all of that succulent, artery-clogging, mouth-watering goodness. Don’t worry: There’s no culinary decorum at Billadelphia’s. Feel free to dip your sammy in the drippings that form swirling yellow-and-brown pools in your basket. Big portions, big flavors, and complete, utter disregard for the calorie-conscious basically constitute the Billadelphia’s experience. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t go there and order a tuna sandwich or a ham hoagie or anything else that you can get anyplace else. Go for the full Philly experience, which involves A.) the cheesesteak (duh!) and B.) the Italian hoagie.
I grew up in Pittsburgh’s Little Italy, where there’s still a ma-and-pa pizza parlor on every other block, and I’ve also lived in Brooklyn and in Jersey right across the Walt Whitman Bridge from South Philly. I’ve had my share of Italian hoagies. In addition to traditional Italian lunch-meats such as capicolla, ham, pepperoni, and salami, the best have always come with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, oil and vinegar, oregano, and, yes, mayonnaise. Don’t scoff: The white stuff perfectly tempers all of the spicy saltiness going on. At Billadelphia’s, you have to request the traditional Italian hoagie toppings — Mr. Billadephia isn’t presumptuous enough to expect folks here in Cowboys Country to have the same taste buds as Northerners. But even if you go with American cheese or mustard (grrr!), the main ingredients should still sing. My sammy had soft, doughy bread, plentiful and fresh meats, and fresh, crispy toppings.
Billadelphia’s offers many more menu options than Geno’s, Jim’s, or any other legendary Philly cheesesteak mini-chain. The best part is that none of the options, from the barbecue chicken “cheesesteak” to the roasted pork sammy to the crab fries (fries with Old Bay seasoning), is out of place. You won’t find any chicken-fried cheesesteaks, barbecue ribs, cheddar cheese, or any other distinctly Texan foods. Everything is honest to Philly. It’s all inexpensive, easy to make, and perfect for adding some extra insulation to combat Yankeeland-ish winters.
Italian hoagie $6.50