Our look at the increasing options of where residents of West and Southwest Orange can get a great cheesesteak.
The drive from Philadelphia to West and Southwest Orange is a little more than 1,000 miles, but for local residents who are transplants from the City of Brotherly Love — or anyone with a hankering for the sandwich with which it is widely associated — Philadelphia probably doesn’t feel quite as far away, lately.
Around the area, there are an increasing number of locally-owned restaurants that serve the cheesesteak sandwich as their signature dish. In Winter Garden, alone, there are two establishments with “cheesesteak” in their names. And it doesn’t stop there: Ocoee and MetroWest also have options for foodies in need of a little grease.
We caught up with owners of four local establishments to chat about their cheesesteak philosophy and what makes their sandwich the one for you.
Daniel's Cheesesteak House
978 E. Plant Street, Winter Garden
THE OWNERS: Family-owned by Frankie Liz, Harold “Mr. Harold” Masih-Das and Brian Masih-Das
THE HISTORY: Daniel’s opened 21 years ago, in September 1993. After selling the business in 1996, the family returned in 2006 and picked up where it left off. The family, which is from New York, happened upon cheesesteaks by accident, when a customer asked if they could do one one day back in 1993. Always happy to oblige a customer, Harold Masih-Das started doing his own version of a cheesesteak, and it was an immediate hit.
THE PHILLY-OSOPHY: Daniel’s took about six months after its first impromptu cheesesteak to settle in on a flavor. Since then, though, the local business on East Plant Street has embraced the sandwich as its signature dish and, rather than associating with the Philly cheesesteak, wants its flavorful variation to be known as the “Winter Garden Cheesesteak.”
“Our flavor, I think, is unmatched — it’s a lot different kind of a flavor than you’re going to find in your traditional cheesesteak,” Frankie Liz said.
Daniel’s also believes in serving its sandwiches with extra meat and extra cheese as standard practice.
TRY THIS: “If they ask, one of my special ways to make it is with the onions, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato — and if they do like hot peppers, I love jalapeños,” Harold Masih-Das said.
Philly's Best Cheesesteaks
2295 S. Hiawassee Road, MetroWest
THE OWNERS: Jeff and Cheryl Wolcott
THE HISTORY: The Wolcotts began their food truck in 2012 and opened their restaurant in MetroWest earlier this year. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Jeff Wolcott is a die-hard Eagles fan who simply wanted to recreate the experience he loved.
“We live and breathe it,” Wolcott said. “Beside the climate, it’s the best city in the country. People from Philly that come here — they’re floored.”
THE PHILLY-OSOPHY: “The bread — you’ve got to get your bread in the city,” Wolcott said. “Nobody makes bread like they do in Philadelphia for cheesesteaks. What sets us apart is we’re the only ones out here using ribeye. … The way we cook our vegetables is a lot different.”
Philly’s Best also takes pride in making sure its customers have plenty of options.
“A lot of places tell you what you’re getting on your cheesesteak — we give you choices,” Wolcott said.
TRY THIS: “It depends on what you like — everything on the menu is good,” Wolcott said. “What you like to eat, you can make into a cheesesteak. … We just put a lot of different twists on the cheesesteak.”
“The Florida” is the most popular sandwich with customers — featuring steak, peppers, fried onions and American cheese.
Lee's Famous Cheesesteaks
12890 W. Colonial Drive, Winter Garden
THE OWNER: Dee Lee
THE HISTORY: The newest location of Lee’s Famous Cheesesteaks opened two weeks ago inside the Chevron gas station at the intersection of West Colonial Drive and Beulah Drive, near its former location across the street.
Dee Lee was a standup comedian and radio personality in Philadelphia, and his family couldn’t find a cheesesteak in Florida that was up to par with what they had grown up on.
“We couldn’t find it,” Lee said. “One day, my oldest daughter made the suggestion. She was like, ‘Dad, why don’t you open up your own place?’ We had a connection back in Philly, and we took advantage of it.”
THE PHILLY-OSOPHY: The bread and meat come to Lee’s through Philadelphia-based companies.
“It makes a difference,” Lee said. “I don’t know what it is, but I know definitely that it tastes different when I go home.”
Lee is quick to point out that he didn’t just wake up one day and figure that being from Philly made him qualified to have a cheesesteak restaurant. He recalls making several trips home to do research before putting some of his own twists on his recipe.
“What sets us apart, definitely, is we know what it should taste like,” Lee said. “The roll, the meat, the way we season our meat. … All in all, it’s the ingredients. You’ve got to have the whiz.”
TRY THIS: “The first thing I do, I ask them if they like vegetables. If so, I say go for it, go for ‘The All’ — sautéed mushrooms, sautéed onions, sautéed peppers, the red crush, our secret seasoning and whatever cheese that you would like.”
320 Moore Road, Ocoee
THE OWNERS: Bill Sauerwine (owner) and daughter Debbie Robinson (manager)
THE HISTORY: The Ocoee/Windermere location opened 14 months ago, in 2014, and the food truck began serving nine months ago. The Philly Connection franchise is 31 years old. Sauerwine lived in Philadelphia for four decades before moving to Florida to retire in 2000. The problem? He and his family couldn’t find a cheesesteak that reminded them of home.
“He started researching franchises, and he fell in love with the Philly Connection franchise,” Robinson said. “We tasted the food and we thought it was as close as we could get to the real thing — because we’re very familiar with the real thing.”
THE PHILLY-OSOPHY: “It has to start with the bread — that’s the vessel to get that sandwich into your mouth,” Robinson said. “We like the bread we serve so much because it’s still made in a bakery in New Jersey. … We use skirt steak, which is a very good quality of meat, and it helps us get that nice, thin, non-chewy consistency. You’ll also see that it’s 92% lean — so you’re not tasting all that fat.”
TRY THIS: “Our recommendation is to start with ‘The Original’ — which is steak, onions and American cheese. Here, we kind of just have them start with the original and then we’ll help (a customer) go from there based on their likes. … ‘The Mushroom’ is the next most-popular.”