My friend Gary is from Philadelphia. He can't go too long without a Philly cheese steak and a fresh-baked pretzel. So he was really glad when John's Philly Grille opened in Sunset Beach.
The place used to be called Frank's Philadelphia, but John Carpenter, who was born in Philly, took over the takeout eatery a few months ago and added his own touch to the menu.
Now Gary is stopping by at least once a week for a cheese steak or a hoagie. He knew he had come to the right place when he asked for cherry peppers and John smiled and brought some out from the back room.
"Most Californians don't even know what they are," said Carpenter of the round, marinated peppers that are mild and slightly sweet. "I knew Gary was from Philadelphia right away."
Gary really got hooked when he found out that John's Philly Grille delivers. A van with a big plastic sandwich on top makes runs to locations in Sunset Beach, Huntington Harbour and Seal Beach (any place within a "reasonable" distance, says Carpenter) free of charge. "In Philadelphia, guys sell pretzels on the street. You can get one while you're waiting at a stoplight," said Gary. "This is the next best thing."
For his cheese steaks, Carpenter uses fresh eye of round, sliced real thin. He grills it up with onions and serves it with marinated peppers and provolone cheese on a soft French roll--the kind that soak up the juice.
John's Philly Grille serves 14 kinds of grilled sandwiches, including Italian meatball (my favorite) and a South Philly-style barbecued beef. There are 12 hoagie sandwiches, crammed full of meat and cheese. You can also get a side order of Philly fries or cheese fries.
If you're tired of takeout pizza or chicken, stop by for a bucket of John's homemade spaghetti and meatballs. There's also takeout lasagna, gnocci, ravioli, ziti and rigatoni, all homemade, using Carpenter's mother's recipe.
The place is small (no tables) and kind of hard to find. So Carpenter always tells people it's near the Sunset Beach post office.
John's Philly Grille, 16873 Pacific Coast Highway, Sunset Beach. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday till midnight, Sunday till 9 p.m. (213) 592-3154.