The title suggests that the topic of this blog is about the intelligence and cleverness of the American people or way of life. Well that assumption couldn’t be farther from the truth. Please continue reading…
The other day I received a link in my Facebook inbox from a friend and fellow American who’s teaching English in Korea. The link was for a Philly Cheesesteak Sub Shop here in Daegu. Now, for those of you from Philly, I can already hear your reaction to this as many of us have traveled outside the Philly area to places far (and as near as New York City) unable to find a sandwich worthy of the name Cheesesteak. But, seeing as how I’m now 10,000 miles from Philadelphia, beggers can’t really be choosers so I made it my mission to seek out this eating establishment to see for myself how these sandwiches compared to the real thing.
105 South St Grill is located a mere two blocks from Gate #4 of Camp Walker – one of the three U.S. Army bases in Daegu. There is a strong military presence all over town and the closer you get to the base the stronger this presence gets. The shop isn’t hard to find as it boasts a large green sign reminiscent of the American road signs found on highways and city streets from sea to shining sea. I was able to take a taxi to the base’s gate for about $3.25 (roughly the cost of a can of tuna here – for those of you who read my first blog post).
A wave of relief washed over me as I first spied the big green sign that not only read the name of the restaurant but also said, “Originally from Philadelphia.” What? Originally from Philadelphia? What was originally from Philadelphia? The idea of the cheesesteak? The rolls? Certainly not the shop because I had never heard of a South St Grill in almost three decades living in the Philly region. What could it mean? Had Tony Luke himself traveled across the Pacific to open a sub shop in Asia? To quote New Jersey native Kevin Smith’s film Chasing Amy: Not Fucking Likely. So curious (and hungry), I ventured inside.
The interior was very small – with only a couple tables and some stools at a window side counter. Actually there wasn’t even a lot of room to walk from one side to the other; three people standing side by side couldn’t have gotten all the way to the back of the store. On top of that, there was Philly paraphernalia all over the walls from Phillies’ jerseys to an Eagles apron signed by the various patrons who hailed from the City of Brotherly Love.
105 South St Grill passed the first test: square footage remnant of any corner South Philly deli and sub shop and sports stuff everywhere. I instantly felt at home and I hadn’t even ordered yet!
What disappointed me though was how empty the place was; just me and the guy behind the grill! Such a crime! How a shop making the single greatest sandwich known to mankind (in all of human history) could possibly be void of a single patron was more a mystery than I could handle. I had to discover why. My expectations dropped. Perhaps the sandwiches weren’t as good or as authentic as Philly Cheesesteaks at all.
The owner (and man behind the grill) I learned is Brandon Kim. Brandon and his brother opened partnering sub shops a few years ago in Daegu but his brother’s shop closed down due to lack of customers (again shock and travesty – and irony as it was located in a complex owned by none other than American real estate mogul Donald Trump). Brandon’s shop however, has survived. Brandon and his brother were born in Seoul but lived for about 20 years in Philly. It was while living in Philly that they learned to love (and make) the Philly Cheesesteak so they could return to their home country and share this culinary masterpiece with the rest of their paisans.
I introduced myself to Brandon and ordered a cheesesteak before getting down to business. American, Wit.
While Brandon fired up the grill we got to talking. I shared with him who I was, where I was from, and what I was doing in Korea. He shared with me the same and when my sandwich was finished, we continued to chat while I ate. He asked me how long I’d been here and I asked him some questions too. I spent over 2 hours in this little slice of home with my new friend.
Where else, I ask you, could you enter a restaurant for a sandwich and leave with a new friend? Brotherly love indeed. Before I left, Brandon and I exchanged information and I told him I’d do what I could to help him grow his business. We have already exchanged texts and I created a Facebook page for his place (it got 9 LIKES within the first 2 hours). But by now I know you’re all dying to know…. how was the sandwich?
The cheesesteak was very good. The beef, onion, and cheese combination was spot on with any Philly original. The roll was decent as well (because all you die hard aficionados know that’s the true test of any cheesesteak). Since arriving in Korea, I’ve yet to find a restaurant or grocery store that sells sub rolls. Wraps? Yes. Sliced Bread? Yes. But nowhere have I found rolls. The fact that Brandon is even able to get his hands on them at all is unto itself no small miracle. He told me he has them shipped down from Seoul and that place has to special order them! So are the rolls Amoroso’s? No. Are they an adequate substitution for being 10,000 away from Philly? Absolutely.
So my official review is that Brandon’s cheesesteaks are top of the line and a wonderful treat for any American living in Korea. I’m glad to have found it and I’m glad to have made a new friend. I hope we’ll be spending some time together (and maybe even working together) in the near future.