You can’t shake a hoagie roll in this town without hitting a non-native in their blabbering maw as they crow on about the magnificent tastes they can only get back East. In fact, this writer is one of those very same folks. So what does it take to get us all to close our traps? Put something delicious in it, and give it the flavor of home.
For Bera’s Custom Cheese Steaks, that means taking a much-beloved favorite, and upping the ante. The result is gourmet-style cheesesteak that marries some of the better product sourcing on the West Coast with the classic essence of East Coast food pride. The result? Well, it’s one of the better cheesesteaks this town has to offer.
And really, that’s coming to mean a lot these days. If your cravings are so specific that you’re looking only for meat, Cheez-Whiz, and bread on four wheels, there’s still Lee’s Philly doing their thing. There’s even the South Philly Experience, a two-truck operation that keeps a gritty, brick-with-graffiti look, and offers street-wise versions of their food to match. Care to move indoors? Try Philly Steak Depot or, better yet, Great Western Steak & Hoagie Company. So what makes the Bera’s experience different? In a word: quality.
Not content to open just another Philly spot in this land of ex-pats, owner Tom Barbera set to work on a new menu for cheesesteaks in general. The traditional version is given Angus rib-eye beef and a hefty dose of provolone cheese (don’t worry there’s still Cheez-Whiz for the purists). Other, more exotic options include: Chipotle Cheesesteak (Monterey Jack and cojita, anyone?), Stromboli Steak (think meat pizza on a bun… sort of), and the seemingly requisite Thai Chicken Steak. Back on Philly’s south side, words like ‘aioli’ or ‘cornichons’ only help make a recipe for getting punched, but on the Bera’s truck you’d be hard-pressed to find a swing-and-a-miss option.
LAist was invited to try Bera’s at March’s Downtown ArtWalk, deep in the heart of food truck country. While their traditional Philly cheesesteak retains the prototypical flavor that those cranky East Coasters are looking for, the quality beef really escalates the affair. Each bite is more moist and substantial than most competitors, without the fatty heaviness that tends to follow. And while the roll isn’t flown in from any local Philly bakery, it maintains an airiness despite being on a truck all day, and holding up to a myriad of ingredients. The Chipotle cheesesteak is Bera’s number two seller, and it eats like a truly well-thought-out sandwich. The chipotle sauce delivers enough bite to keep you interested, and it’s not a flavor often associated with the thin, moist strips of beef that crowd inside normal cheesesteaks. The cilantro is a nice addition to the overall taste, although not entirely necessary. It seems that when Bera’s is at its best, the recipe is basic and the ingredients are particular.
In the end, Bera’s Custom Cheese Steaks may not turn off the volume knob on those of us who love to herald our East Coast eats, but it’s more than capable of turning down the noise.