It’s not a place where the decor is of primordial importance (clean, simple, yet reminiscent of a chain) and it’s not a place where you need a whole lot of direction (it’s cheesesteak-centric). However, that doesn’t mean that Roy’s Cheesesteaks is lacking in any true sense of the word. Stashed away up in Smyrna, just off South Cobb Drive, Roy’s seems to be the de facto choice as Atlanta’s favorite cheesesteak joint. While I’ve dinned here a couple of times in the past 16-months (or so), this was my first visit in some time. As such, I’ll deem this a “first impression.”
In 1984, Philly Connection, a cheesesteak restaurant, opened it’s doors here in Atlanta. By 1988, the owners of the burgeoning business decided to franchise the concept. In retrospect, it is no surprise that Roy Brostrand was responsible, at least in part, for the expansion.
Fast forward 25-years and we find Brostrand has ventured off and now runs the eponymous cheesesteak place at the center of this discussion. His experience in the world of corporate backed dining shows. Roy’s restaurant sits in a strip mall and comes armed with polished signage, uniforms (aka branded t’s), and the predictable yet reassuring mural of Philadelphia.
The ambiance here is a drastic contrast to that of Woody’s, ATL’s other well-known cheesesteak institution. In that spirit, I prefer the one-off appeal of the Woody’s shack to the polished, franchise-in-waiting experience that is Roy’s. However, they are trying for different things, and in that respect, each succeeds in the market they target. Again, we’re just talking about the decor (for now!!!).
Meanwhile, the friendly counter folk operate with conveyor belt precision. Seconds after orders come in, the line cook snaps the ticket off the printer and falls into a well rehearsed dance. Speaking specifically to this past visit, it follows that while the customers showed up en masse soon after we sat, that line was mowed down most efficiently.
While the grill man does his thing, the buns are toasted, cheese is added, and then it sits (but not for long) as the fill-uns are wrapped up. During this brief lag in the process, you may glance over at the griddle to see the precisely portioned meat heap had since been covered with its own slices (or globs) of cheese. The only breakdown in the system seems to be with the amount of s&p added at the end. The amount utilized seems inconsistent from one steak to the next. However, it does not appear to cause such a commotion that I’d ever consider docking points.
Meanwhile, ask someone what makes Roy’s rep and they are bound to mention the Amoroso sandwich rolls and the meat mixture (according to BG, it’s a shaved combo of skirt, round, and sirloin). The bread here comes straight from the Amoroso Baking Company in Philly. It’s a fairly well-known company, though I can assure you I’m familiar with them simply because of my ties to the City of Brotherly Love. In other words, don’t feel bad if that name doesn’t mean a thing to you.
As thaw and serve products go, this bread is as good as one would expect. It’s soft and respondent to the bite. Meanwhile, the meat and cheese melts right in. Though it has been robbed of its true freshness, I still find this grain superior to a number of alternative choices. Ultimately, the bread, though not artisan in quality, is something that Roy’s can (and does) take pride in.
Wrapped and rolled, you’re handed a cafeteria style tray, whereby the rest of the experience becomes “serve yourself.” When unrolled, the torpedo shaped sandwiches beckon with steam filled cat calls. Bites of Roy’s cheesesteak are a decadent experience. If I were lacking in manners and attempted to talk with my mouth full, I can assure you that Papa Buddha would have seen a dense forest of stretched cheese and shaved meat. In other words, the texture of one of these bad boys is spot on.
Meanwhile, the sandwiches were a lesson in portion control. To succeed, a cheesesteak should be heavy on the meat+cheese and light on the bread. Yup yup on both accounts. As we tore down our sandwiches, we immediately began to reminisce about the dwindling (but still operating) Philly Connection. It strikes me that so many people dismiss Philly Connection yet love Roy’s, despite the obvious similarities.
The shaved meat topped with a good bit of melted queso means you’ll need napkins. As you get further into a bite, certain short-comings (particularly with the bread) come to mind. But they soon pass as you realize you’re eating a really tasty sandwich. Regardless of your choice of cheese (wiz, white American, provolone), the underlying savory nature of the product should catch your attention. Early impressions of Roy’s put it on par with the aforementioned Woody’s. Upon further analysis, the softer bread and variety of cheese selections help to make Roy’s a success while flavor of the meat does so at Woody’s.
Rumor has it that Roy’s serves up hoagies, chicken phillies, deep fried hot dogs, and a handful of other sandwich alternatives. I wouldn’t know, my eyes seem subconsciously imprisoned by the outlines of the cheesesteak section. Maybe I’ll try one of them sometime, but don’t count on it. The cheesesteaks here won’t allow such an indiscretion.
To compliment your sandwich, Roy’s offers up fries and chips. Nothing spectacular here, I am not wonderfully fond of the fries. I’m still searching through my internal food dictionary for words to describe the taters. They have characteristics that many have seen before, but seem somewhat elusive to me at this time. Still, Papa B. downed his share of them with a great big smile.
Before you head out the door, you can satiate your sugar tooth with some ice cream or some Tastykake products. I’ve never tried any of them … after all, who has room?
All in, Roy’s is a definitive yes in my book. Roy himself hails from South Jersey, and his take on the steak does them and the ‘delphians justice. While it lacks some of the personality of the aforementioned Woody’s, Roy’s does an excellent job of delivering the true Philly experience. This may not score quite as high with me as some of my favorite cheesesteaks in the country; however, I enjoy the Roy’s experience from top to bottom. As you may have surmised, a gut busting caloric smack down like this is likely to put a few people down for the count. Proceed with caution after your meal if tasked with any thought intensive activity.
Oh, and for good measure – here’s a little video of Roy:
Atlanta Foodies On Roy’s Cheesesteaks
- The Blissful Glutton on Roy’s Cheesesteaks (via CL) (10.01.08)
- The Blissful Glutton on Roy’s Cheesesteaks (08.18.08)