Movable Feast: Tony Luke's

When South Philly sandwich king Tony Luke announced he was opening a satellite restaurant in University City, some were skeptical. Contributors to a local blog predicted it would start out strong but “fade away” once the novelty had worn off. “Having a Lukes in UCity is like having Geno’s on Washington Square,” wrote one blogger, implying, we assume, that Ivy Leaguers have no use for the proletarian charms of Philly style sandwiches. That’s strange, we thought cheese, meat, fries and onion rings were staple fare for students everywhere, ivy or no ivy. And we’re not talking run-of-the-mill greasy grub here. Tony Luke’s has won a slew of awards—Best of Philly, Zagat’s People’s Choice, Gourmet Magazine’s “Best Restaurants”—for its Whiz drenched cheesesteaks and roast pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe.

For its campus venue Tony Luke’s took over the space formerly occupied by the Triangle Diner, keeping the ’50s style décor largely intact. The menu, a truncated version of the original Oregon Avenue takeout stand, offers steaks—”Wit” or “Wit-out”—roast pork, chicken cutlet and vegetarian sandwiches (all under $7) and a handful of sides.

We braved the lunchtime crowds—and a still shaky ordering system—to test three of TL’s most popular sandwiches and bring you the goods on the good stuff.

Chicken Cutlet Italian ($6.35)

The bread was chewy, the provolone sharp and the broccoli rabe nice and garlicky. Since the lightly breaded cutlet that accompanied the cheese and greens was so substantial, we predicted half our sandwich would end up in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s lunch. That didn’t happen. Something about the toothsome chicken nestled in its fresh sub kept tempting us to just one more bite.

Cheesesteak ($5.65)

We chose cheese Whiz and added some fried onions to this Philly classic, which left us only halfway impressed. The highlight here was the bread—flavorful, soft and fresh, it was one of the best steak rolls we’ve had in a long time. The meat, though, was tough and a little dry. We also felt TL went a little light on the Whiz—and what’s a cheesesteak without plenty of cheese? The fried onions were excellent. A quick warning: This one was greasy. That’s not all bad, though, is it?

Green Sandwich with Cheese ($5.10)

Though we ordered the Greens Special (loaded with broccoli rabe, cheese, hot and sweet peppers, fried onion and red sauce), we ended up with a sandwich stuffed with just broccoli rabe and sharp provolone. It was a good and hearty meal—and some might say an ideal way to eat your greens—but not quite the taste explosion we had hoped for. Know that this vegetarian treat is hardly a light lunch—the paper wrapping was soaked through with oil just in the quick walk from the restaurant back to the office.

Originally published on October 20, 2005