By Jay Bennett
Dropping big bucks on dinner is great, but how often do you really treat yourself to a classy meal? When you’re not eating at home (admit it: seems you hardly ever do that anymore), it’s all about finding the best eats for those few bills left in your wallet.
On this blog, I’ll be looking for inexpensive food that isn’t crap. I like to travel when foraging for lunch and dinner, but there are a ton of places in my Indian School-centric world and I need the exposure to other parts of the Valley, so feel free to tip me off to your favorite budget-minded chow. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speaking of Indian School Road, the spectacularly uninviting site of Paul’s Little Philly just west of 36th Street has been transformed into a tidy and fun little place called Ricky’s Big Philly. I think it’s essential dining if you live in the neighborhood and dig giant sandwiches.
The proprietors, Clint Walker and Richard Elizondo, intended to turn the place into a baked-goods boutique when they bought Paul’s last fall. But as they were fixing up the place (“It was in desperate need,” says Elizondo), folks would drop by and ask them not to change the bill of fare. Because Elizondo’s dad and gramps are from South Philadelphia, he already knew a thing or two about cheesesteaks, so he and Walker decided to give the people what they wanted. Walker and Elizondo say the Philly and Jersey transplants who’ve dined at Ricky’s have given them props for authenticity.
I’m a native Midwesterner, so I can’t claim to know a lot about the classic cheesesteak, but I can say the sandwiches at Ricky’s are big and delicious. In particular, the footlong #6 Big Philly Cheesesteak is the behemoth to order if you like your sammy loaded: thinly sliced rib-eye steak (cooked using a recipe created by Elizondo, who has a culinary degree from a school in New Mexico), ham, grilled onions, mushrooms, banana peppers, and white American cheese. You can get other cheeses, too — including Cheez Whiz (for you purists from PA) — but white American is tops.
At this point, you may be wondering: But what about the bun? The bun is what keeps me coming back. On big hoagie-style sandwiches, the bun can sometimes impede your wolfing. I hate it when the bun doesn’t have the right amount of “give” — either it’s too crusty or too chewy, forcing you to wimp out and pick at the sandwich’s innards with a fork. Ricky’s bread has the exact collapsibility that I demand from a bun. You can pick this thing up with two hands and attack it, letting your mouth do the heavy lifting and ignoring the plastic fork that Ricky’s kindly supplies on your metal plate. Elizondo says it took him weeks of trying every bread vendor in town to find a bun that most closely approximates those of Amoroso’s, the gold standard of bun-making back in Philly.
On the side is a nice-size serving of onion rings. The light and flavorful rings are fried with a homemade batter and arrive with your sandwich neither too greasy nor too batter-y. I recommend opting for the rings over the fries, which aren’t really all that special.
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Walker and Elizondo say they’re just getting going with Ricky’s. They hope to slowly evolve the menu and add “middle-end diner” food to the lineup of cheesesteaks and other sandwiches. These two guys, who happen to live in this neighborhood, also own a ceramic dinnerware wholesale company. Among other dinnerware items, they design cool salt-and-pepper shakers that, along with various cactuses and succulents, adorn each table in the place.
As you might expect, the sandwiches are all about $6 or $8, a darn good deal when you consider their size and quality ingredients — this isn’t your run-of-the-mill grub purchased from a food service. After a Saturday morning filled with yardwork, I’m likely to be found chilling on Ricky’s little patio, watching the cars go by on Indian School, savoring a #6 (with white American, please).