First Look: I Went to Philly, a steak sandwich sanctuary on Yonge Street


Last year, the Stevenson family went on a trip to Philly. When they came back, husband Jack Stevenson quit his long-time job in car sales. Wife Julie Stevenson decided to venture into the world of business after being a housewife and raising three now-grown kids. And sons Frankie and Peter went to work for mom and dad full-time. The Stevensons opened up a restaurant at Yonge and Grenville and named their business, simply and appropriately, I went to Philly.

Why the restaurant? “I sold one too many cars,” Jack says.

The other reason: the Stevensons, who say they love cooking for their large extended family but have never worked in the restaurant business before, tell us they were blown away by the famous Philly cheese steak sandwich during their visit.

“When I first tried the sandwich, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is awesome,’” Julie says.

Jack agrees. “We thought, ‘Boy, does Toronto need this.’ And we decided to open up a restaurant.”

Julie and Jack Stevenson

Julie admits she was apprehensive at first. When she found out the sandwich’s claim to fame is that it’s topped with Whiz — as in Cheez Whiz — she didn’t know what to think. But after one bite, she says she swears by the processed cheese spread.

 “We’re convincing our customers one at a time to try it,” she says.

The menu at I Went to Philly is simple: a variety of Philly cheese steak sandwiches, along with fries that also come topped with cheese steak, if you dare.

The works ($8.65) is generous portion of thinly sliced AA rib-eye steak. The meat is prepared with a blend of spice, salt, pepper, soy and Worcestershire sauce, along with and the Stevensons’ secret stock, which includes beef bone, celery, onions, carrots, salt, pepper and some secret ingredients, naturally. 

Jack, the expert griller, takes care of the peppers, onions and mushrooms, all of which are grilled with the stock.

If you think you can’t handle the Whiz, I Went to Philly also offers provolone cheese. The bun is a soft Italian one, which Jack picks up every day from a bakery in Etobicoke. The vegetables come from the local grocery store, while the cheese comes straight from Saputo.

Continuing the Philly tradition, sandwiches also come with hot cherry peppers.

The cheese steak fries ($5.15) come with generous amounts of beef and Whiz. Julie swears that the key to the fries is the Yukon Gold potatoes she makes them with.

In Philly, Jack says, the ultimate pairing with a cheese steak sandwich is Yoo-hoo, the American chocolate drink. After an extensive search, he found a supplier, and is committed to drive out to the Buffalo border to stock up when needed. He says he bought enough to fill up I Went to Philly’s basement, as well as the shed, basement, and living room at home, and he’ll drive back for more when the time comes.

“We didn’t want to run out,” he says.

The day we stopped by happened to be the couple’s 23rd wedding anniversary.

“We did this on faith only. If we didn’t have faith, we couldn’t have done it,” Jack says.

I Went to Philly, 462 Yonge St., 416-927-9090

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