Here’s another restaurant that I’d never have known about were it not for the old Atlanta Cuisine message boards. I thought that I liked a good cheesesteak as much as the next guy, but it turns out that I had not really enjoyed the real thing yet. I’d enjoyed some pretty good cheesesteaks in my time – The Mad Italian serves up a splendid one, and I’ve heard for years that Woody’s, on Monroe, should be a destination – but now that I know what the real thing should be, I’ve reconsidered what we’d had in the past.
I feel good about calling this the real thing because Roy grew up in Cherry Hill in South Jersey and knows what a good cheesesteak should taste like. He gets his bread in from a Philadelphia bakery called Amoroso and offers a variety of cheeses for his sandwiches. Most people probably just get it with white American, but if you want Cheese Whiz, like some folk from up there prefer, they will gladly do that for you, too. I tried a sandwich wit’ Whiz once and wasn’t completely sold, myself.
For those of us who enjoy hard-to-find sodas, there’s an even better reason to go: Roy’s may well be the only restaurant in the Atlanta region to still serve Fanta birch beer, which I believe is the best soda that Coca-Cola has ever concocted. Once upon a time, Roy started up the regional chain of Philly Connection restaurants, but franchising and overexpanding turned those into a regular disappointment. Back when Roy still ran some of those, you could get Fanta birch beer from them, but the last few times that I’ve popped my head in a Philly Connection’s door hoping for some birch beer, it was a Pepsi soda fountain that greeted me. So if you want a birch beer, and believe me, you do, make your way to Smyrna.
We’ve only been to Roy’s about six or seven times. They don’t keep extremely friendly hours, although I can’t blame them for taking an early supper and closing on Sundays, considering their location. This really is, unfortunately, a place you have to know about to find. It’s off South Cobb Drive, very near I-285, up a little road called Highlands Parkway in an easily-missed strip mall with a gas station and a nail place. The interior is very franchise-friendly — you can easily imagine some sign company retaining the schematics of everything inside, from menus to giant photos of the streets of Philly and the Liberty Bell, to refit any similar-sized space in the city — but, as of this writing, the Smyrna location is the only one.
This past Friday, my dad took me to lunch here. It turned out he wasn’t very hungry himself, so he just had some pizza bread, an Amoroso roll baked with darn good sauce and parmesan cheese, while I got a small loaded cheesesteak, as I always do. A small is more than enough to suit me, especially packed as this is with onions, peppers and pepperoni, with a bag of Zapp’s chips and a short rest before returning to the register to buy a small pack of Tastykakes. The experience just wouldn’t be the same without three peanut butter Tastykakes for dessert.
I still haven’t got around to trying Roy’s hoagies and other sandwiches, because I like the cheesesteaks so darn much. As a final point of emphasis on how tasty these are, and how authentic, last summer, I visited Philadelphia for the first time. On the recommendation of our buddy Chris in Jacksonville, Marie and I stopped by the Little Hut, a tiny takeout place in Ridley Park that his family has sworn by for many years. Roy’s and Little Hut are so similar, and so wonderful, that I can’t pick one over the other, and are absolutely a match in terms of quality. This does do Chris a small service in that Roy’s is something like 512 miles closer to him, the next time he needs an authentic Philly experience. If the Tastykakes people only sent their pies down to this market, we’d probably see him up here twice as often.
Other blog posts about Roy’s: