Meet Serious Syd
ABOUT SYD’S: Syd’s was born and raised in North Philly and growing up loved to hear his Mom say, “I’m not cooking tonight. Here’s $5, go get yourself something to eat.” That meant Syd’s could check out any of the numerous steak and hoagie shops in the neighborhood.
The owners of these sandwich shops took sandwich making seriously. They had to, to survive. With a steak or hoagie shop practically on every other corner, the owners of these establishments had to find a way to distinguish their sandwiches from everyone else’s. Interestingly enough, most found a way to do just that.
Jones’ distinguished himself by using ground steak in his sandwiches, but was known for his incredible ham hoagies, humm, I can taste it now. Johnny’s didn’t give you a lot of meat on his steak sandwich, but had a sauce he used that was oh so good, how much meat was on the sandwich didn’t matter. Teddy’s had an all-around great tasting steak sandwich that put you to sleep if you ate it all. Sounds like our 12 inch. The Hole-in-the-Wall was a really small spot on Dauphin Street at Garnett, with great sandwiches that kept them coming back for more. And Tony’s on Susquehanna Avenue, near 16th Street, developed a loyal following using a very plain steak sandwich that was just really good.
And then there were the shops located outside the neighborhood that deserved patronage. Charlie’s Water Wheel was on Sansom Street in downtown Philly and he made great steaks and hoagies. He would bake his own hams, roasts, and turkeys to use to make his hoagies. Charlie’s made some of the best sandwiches ever. His pizza steak was to die for. The combination of pepperoni, steak, and mozzarella cheese was too much. The Explorer’s Den on Olney Avenue sold really good hoagies and steaks. Their sandwiches were packed with meat and needed two hands to handle. And of course, there were the shops with the reputations, but not necessarily the best sandwiches. They’re good, but not the best, in my opinion. These include Jim’s on South Street, and Pat’s and Geno’s, both at 8th and Passyuck Avenue. On any given day you’ll find lines at these shops.
When in the mood for a steak or hoagie, the shop you went to, depended on what you felt like. They were all good in some important way.
And then there were times when you played sandwich maker at home. My Mom would often bring home some minute steak and hoagie rolls. When she did, I would make a steak sandwich that tasted at least as good as the ones offered at the steak shops. At least I thought it did.
After leaving Philly, Syd’s realized that no place outside of Philly got steaks or hoagies right. A lot of places made good sandwiches, but they just didn’t compare to what Syd’s was used to, especially steaks. Almost no place could make a steak the way they did in Philly. Some were good, but good in their interpretation of what the steak sandwich should be. Most almost always added green peppers, and called it a Philly Steak. In Philly, they called that a pepper steak sandwich, which was a kind of steak sandwich you could order, but not the norm.
So to get a good steak sandwich Syd’s had to resort to making them at home, and over time realized he had skills. Using prime cuts of steak, filet mignon or rib eye, Syd’s would freeze the meat so he could more easily cut it into really thin slices. Then he would sautéed some onions and mushrooms with his steak and layer it on a long, hard roll and then upon eating it, enter steak sandwich bliss.
The same was true for hoagies. Most places outside of Philly had cold sandwiches. Some places called them subs or submarines, while other places called them heroes. Some places heated them and called them grinders. I still can’t imagine heating a hoagie. There’s something inherently wrong subjecting cold cuts to heat. So I would go out and buy some cold cuts and make hoagies at home. Of course they were good; at least I thought they were.
So ending up in New York almost 20 years ago, Syd’s got the idea to open a sandwich shop in the tradition of those he frequented in North Philly. Sandwich shops where you could get a cheese steak or hoagie made with quality, fresh ingredients, and made the North Philly way, SERIOUSLY!!!
In September 2010, twenty years after thinking about doing it, and 5 years after winning a business plan competition for the concept, Syd’s opened its doors. Dedicated to preserving the North Philly tradition of serious sandwich making, Syd’s wants to share the incredibly great tasting sandwich experiences of his youth. Come check it out. The sandwiches are good, SERIOUSLY!!!