The first time Ryan Sherman ate a Philly cheesesteak, it was one he made himself. He was working the line at the Buckeye Tavern, his first restaurant job. Sherman grew up in Allentown, Pennsylvania; his business partner, Peter Fischer, grew up in nearby Hatfield. Both of them were never too far from cheesesteaks, until they moved to Portland and, in 2013, opened the Italian cart Gabagool.
Years later, Gabagool is now a St. Johns standby for handmade pastas and pizzettas. But Sherman and Fischer, burnt out by the last year and watching food carts nimbly navigate the year’s hurdles, dusted off their original cart and decided to get back to their roots, in more ways than one. In late January, they opened Whiz, a food cart specializing in methodically constructed cheesesteaks.
According to Sherman, a good cheesesteak starts with the roll. He and Fischer import Amoroso’s rolls — the foundational Philly cheesesteak roll — to use for their various sandwiches. The beef, however, is local: Whiz serves Painted Hills grass-fed beef for its cheesesteaks, shaved thin. From there, customers can go a number of different ways: You can get your classic cheesesteak with provolone, swiss, or house-made “whiz,” a mornay fortified with cheddar and fontina. You can get it “wit,” which means thinly sliced onions hit the griddle with the steak. “The vegetables have to be cooked to order with the beef,” Sherman says. “A lot of places cook them ahead of time, they sit there hot and break down and turned to mush.”
The menu, from there, is an homage to classic dishes spotted in Philly delis and pizzerias. “The Jabroni,” a pizza steak, gets a dose of tomato sauce, provolone, and hot peppers. The cart’s version of a mushroom steak — with mushrooms, fried onions, and swiss — is called “The Schmitty,” named after legendary Phillies player Mike Schmidt. And, to accomodate Portland’s many vegans, the cart offers an Impossible Beef cheesesteak with house-made cashew whiz.
Whiz is open from noon to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays at 2623 SE Belmont Street.
• Whiz [Official]
Correction: This story has been corrected to show that Whiz’s co-owner’s name is spelled Fischer, not Fisher.