Upon gazing at Brianto's stark white walls, ornamented with memorabilia and photographs of every Philadelphia Phillies baseball player that ever donned a red-pinstriped uniform, I asked the good-natured lad behind the counter a question that no patron had ever dared to ask, let alone in deadpan fashion: "Why no photos of Joe Carter?"
In the moments that ensued, his bulging gaze met my squinting glare for what seemed like minutes, but when the hoagie virtuoso's eyes eventually regained focus, we were all able to (thankfully) laugh the moment off. "You should've said that after you got your food," he joked – at least I think he was joking. Carter's home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams to win the '93 World Series for the Blue Jays isn't exactly a high point in the city's sports history. So in a place where even the logo is a facsimile of their beloved Phillies, I was happy to have all my teeth after uttering the cheeky quip: teeth I needed in order to chomp down on their huge hoagies and cheesesteaks.
They take their cheesesteaks seriously here – I'm talking Amoroso's hearth-baked rolls and sliced rib-eye steak, flown straight in from the City of Brotherly Love. And they don't skimp on the chopped meat in the cheesesteak supreme ($5.99 for 6-inch; $8.99 for 12-inch; $12.99 for 18-inch), a beefy sub with the requisite onions, green peppers and mushrooms oozing with sharp provolone and Cheez Whiz. Be sure to Whiz it up, as the cheesesteak borders on bland without it, likely due to the meat not being seasoned – or not strongly enough.
For the same price, you can opt to make the very same cheesesteak a "cheesesteak hoagie," which means adding lettuce, tomato, raw onions and a splash of oil, vinegar and mayo. The hoagie comes without green peppers or mushrooms, but I was surprised at how much better it was than the cheesesteak supreme. Everyone at the table agreed that this was the best sandwich of the lot, and we picked the 18-inch behemoth clean. Also good was the Liberty Bell ($5.99, 6-inch; $8.99, 12-inch; $12.99, 18-inch), a cold hoagie stuffed to the hilt with ham, turkey and roast beef, and plenty of sweet and hot peppers to pack a punch. The hot meatball hoagie ($4.49, 6-inch; $7.49, 12-inch; $11.49, 18-inch) was endorsed by one of my Italian dining companions – not so much for the sub itself, but for the well-seasoned meatballs. You'll also find other Keystone State faves such as crackling Herr's potato chips (59 cents, small; 99 cents, medium; $1.59, large), refreshingly crisp Hank's birch beer ($1.99) and sugary Tastykakes ($1.29). Junk food connoisseurs may disagree, but to me, the Tastykakes tasted just like Hostess cupcakes/Ding Dongs/Ho Hos.
Brianto's may not satisfy pangs for the legendary cheesesteaks and hoagies cooked up at Pat's or Geno's in Philadelphia, but the guys here make every effort to bring a little Philly flavor to Central Florida. If they focused a bit of that effort in seasoning the beef, transplanted Philadelphians might flock to Avalon Park for some of their griddled gourmandizing.
Then, like Joe Carter off a Mitch Williams fastball, they'd be sure to hit it out the park.
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