John Strauss stands at the gargantuan grill and throws a mound of shredded red meat down which sizzles when it makes contact with the metal. He sprinkles some grilled onions on too and quickly tosses the blend around with the spatula. The meat and onions begin to brown and white smoke wafts around him. Strauss confidently flips the spatula in the air and catches it without flinching.
"Whiz wit, right?" the young cook asks me anxiously. He's incomprehensible and I stare at him blankly like a tourist from another country. "With cheese whiz and onions right?" Strauss repeats again, but slower and with better enunciation. I feel like an idiot and nod.
Strauss and his family don't mind, they're used to it. They moved to South Florida from Philadelphia six years ago. During that time they have tried to keep their environment from shaping them as they aim to bring the community the most authentic Philly Cheesesteak outside of Pennsylvania at their small eatery, Chessesteak Experience. Besides it's reassuring to hear the staff speaking in their native tongue. It's definitely an experience.
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John's parents, Jeff and Bobbie Strauss, started selling authentic Philly cheesesteaks at the Festival Flea Market. But at the beginning of July, they uprooted from their shop of six years and opened up in the Galt Ocean Mile area.
"It's in a better location," Bobbie Strauss says. "We get a lot of Pennsylvanians that love to come here. No one else in Florida [is] from Philly and does this."
Their tiny outpost is a slice of Philadelphia. The walls are lined with framed photos and drawings of the City of Brotherly Love. In fact, on John's lower left leg there is a tattoo of the famed liberty bell. "We're from Philly and we wear it proud," he tells me lifting up his pant leg.
The Strauss' are meticulous about making their cheese steaks authentic. They get their bread shipped from Amorosa Bakery in Philadelphia and they serve each sandwich with over a half pound of sirloin beef.
"No one leaves here hungry," owner Jeff Strauss says confidently.
Patrons then get their choice of cheese: cheese whiz, Provolone, or Mozzarella. Then there is the option to add onions. The Strauss' recommend the sandwich with cheese whiz and onions, or translated to Philly lingo as "whiz wit."
"We place a major focus on how [the sandwiches] are made," Jeff explains. "Everything has to be done right and exact and you wouldn't know what that is unless you're from Philadelphia."
At their eatery, the Strauss' make well over 100 cheesesteaks a day. In fact when it's busy they will use over 200 lbs. of sirloin steak a day. Last month they cooked over 1,600 lbs of meat. Their inventory record reveals that they use almost 600 rolls a week.
Jeff Strauss does not believe in advertising, his cheesesteaks are so good they can sell themselves. It's all about word-of-mouth.
"We like to keep it simple," Jeff explains. "People come in and tell their friends and it spreads because they like what we have."
Cheesesteak Experience is located at 3341 NE 32nd St. in Fort Lauderdale. They are open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursdays, and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturdays. They are currently closed on Sundays, but the Straus' expect that to change soon. Call 954-616-5468 or visit philly-cheesesteaks.com.
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