Roy’s Cheesesteaks Restaurant Review: Philly In The Dirty – Smyrna, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions] 12

Posted by Foodie Buddha on June 23, 2009

roy's cheesesteaks - the signageIt’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.

roy's cheesesteaks - cheesesteak unboxed by you.

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!!!).

roy's cheesesteaks - choicesMeanwhile, 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 roy's cheesesteaks - salt and pepper times&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.

roy's cheesesteaks - looks good roy's cheesesteaks - cheesesteak meat roy's cheesesteaks - amoroso bread

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:

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Atlanta Foodies On Roy’s Cheesesteaks

Roy’s Cheesteaks Restaurant Address & Information

2900 Highlands Pky SE, Smyrna, GA 30082 // 404.799.7939
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  • Hunter

    FB – I’m really with you on most of your reviews, but have to offer my very different experience to the tasting notes here. I looked forward to Roy’s from others’ reviews (Blissful Glutton, AC.com), and the decor similarly attracted me. Serving Birch beer, Tastykake’s, and bringing in Amoroso rolls all seemed to demonstrate an eye for quality and authenticity.

    We went for dinner last weekend and had two steaks, one with white american and one with Whiz. Both really seemed to be different from your experience. There was a literal puddle of mostly water/little grease in my basket from my sandwich. It was so soggy that the bread fell apart from the first time that I picked it up. While the meat cuts seemed to be flavorful, there was an overarching blandness (from the extra sogginess?) that the surface salt and pepper didn’t fix. My companion’s sandwich featured similar elements.

    The whiz was also a surprise. The usual application of spreading some on the bun, prior to filling it with meat was right on. After the sandwich was filled, however, they ran a huge bead of cheese right on top of the meat, in the open face. As it wasn’t insulated with the meat, this quickly solidified into an unappetizing goo. I had to pull it off each half of the sandwich.

    The french fries were dreadful. The outside was “flaky” (in a strange way) and the inside mealy. I’m not sure if it was the choice of potato product or the fryer (a ventless Perfect Fry model). Stick with chips here.

    I’ve searched Atlanta far and wide for cheesesteaks (Woody’s, Mad Italian, Red White and Blue, Philly Boys, numerous bar/grills) and have to offer that my Roy’s experience was at the bottom of the bunch. With your review, I may go back sometime and give it one more try, but I’m in no hurry.

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      Hey Hunter -
      Thank you for offering up a detailed comment. I certainly agree with you on the fries … and you managed to describe them much better than I did. I think it is the combination of the Perfect Fry and the cut of tater …. I had chips and would recommend the same for others (I hope that was clear from my description).

      Maybe I was a little gentile on them, I don’t know. I’ve been getting hammered by people for being “mean” and “tough,” so perhaps that put me in a softer disposition during yesterday’s lunch. Speaking specifically to your experience with the wiz – they did the exact same thing with the one we got. However, it was wrapped up and thus the cheese was melted in. Boy I hope people read these comments – b/c you’re 100% right … and I would have removed it to had the sandwich not been wrapped.

      The blandness of the meat was not lost on me … again, it was something I might have failed to properly communicate. It had been a year since I had eaten at Roy’s, so I took this as a first impression. That means I forgo any true evaluation of their “system” and simply focus on what’s put in front of me.

      While we didn’t have the same experience with the bread as you did – that it was flash frozen means it is susceptible to falling apart. Then again, you could have just gotten a bad batch. I understand why Roy doesn’t go with local bread …

      Still, I walked out of there satiated and in that aspect, we definitely diverged (and understandably so). It’s important to remember that no matter how many times any foodie hits a restaurant, the only thing they can offer is their take on the experience. It certainly leaves room for other opinions; however, I’m not 100% surprised to hear of your troubles. Your comments will motivate me to get back up there a couple more times in the next months so that I can render a final “decision”

      Buddha … Out!

  • Katie

    Thanks for this review, I really enjoyed reading about your experience at Roy’s! I’ve heard good things about the place, but have never been there despite it being so close to my home. I need to make an effort to get over there sometime soon and judge for myself.

    As for your “mean” and “tough” reviews – I applaud your honesty. While I’m sure many find disagreement with some of the points you make, these are your true opinions and I tend to enjoy reading your take. All in all, I think you do a great job and hope that you keep it up!

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      As all ways, I’m humbled by the fact that anyone reads what I put out. It’s all for fun, so that’s the reward I get.

      People have to remember that this is ultimately subjective. Further to the point, no matter how many times one eats at a restaurant, it doesn’t mean that the experience will hold up for every meal at there. First impressions are particularly touchy and I hope people realize that I am not commenting on things like consistency and viability.

      So far, I’m happy with Roy’s. It doesn’t blow my britches up, but the good outweighed the bad. Hunter makes some excellent comments; as such, I’ll definitely get back up there a couple more times in the next month so that I can pen a full on review.

  • stranger

    good follow up with a positive review.

  • http://foodnearsnellville.wordpress.com foodnearsnellville

    I spent two years working in the City of Brotherly Love. My favorite cheese steak there was one made by a cafeteria at the University of Pennsylvania. It used *gasp* provolone instead of the more common cheese whiz, and had plenty of the spicy cherry peppers so common in that area. Yes, not a “king of steaks” experience but one I enjoyed.

    But to be honest something is missing in the cheese steaks down here and I’m not sure what it is. I used to watch people up north cook the meats, on a grill, and with plenty, plenty of onion as they did. And I never thought Philly Connection got it right. Maybe Roy’s does. if you’ve had the real thing then you have a basis for comparison.

    I think it’s almost as hard to describe the cheese steak experience to a neophyte as it is to describe just how seriously the northeast takes a pizza crust, to someone bred on Pizza Hut eating. So FB, you’re venturing in waters I find difficult to navigate.

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      Hey FNS,
      As luck would have it, i’ve been fortunate enough to hit up many a cheesesteak places in Philly (including Crap’s and Beno’s). I don’t really think there is any reason why a joint outside of Pennsylvania (or even Jersey) should have a problem delivering an exquisite example of these beloved goodies. However, that doesn’t mean that any place here in Atlanta does that. Keep in mind this is just a first impression (or in theory it is). I walked out of Roy’s satiated, not blown away. Your last point is SOOOO TRUE it hurts.

      Meanwhile, with all the interest in this post, I’ve already planned another meal there at the end of the month and one final one the following month. Thus, a full on review is coming. Woody’s scored 2/4 for me … and that might be a little generous (their bread isn’t good). However, the overall is not just about the food.

  • http://kitchen.mrorph.com Donald

    Great review. I didn’t even know Roy’s existed.

    I am from Philadelphia; been here in the ATL for 20 years now. My very first job was making steaks and pizzas in a shop down the block from my house. I have not had a really good steak here the entire time that I have lived here. I am very skeptical. Using the Amoroso rolls is a nice touch, but frozen first? I dunno…

    I have actually resorted to slicing my own ribeye and making homemade cheesesteaks. If you ask my wife, who is from Roswell, she thinks mine are closer to Philly’s than any that we have had here. Philly Connection is a joke. Mad Italian used to have a decent steak, but now they are just stingy with the meat.

    I will have to ride on over to Smyrna and give Roy’s a try, but I dunno… :-)

  • JSF3000

    How do you not mention Mad Italian? It is by far the best cheesesteak in ATL. They have gotten a little skimpy on the meat lately, but it is still the best. Just ask Lamar to hook you up (wink).

    • http://www.foodiebuddha.com foodiebuddha

      I haven’t been to the Mad Italian in like 20 years (back when they had one in Peachtree Hills). I think they’re down to one location (up in chamblee)…i’ll head back up there at some point … I’m never one to turn down a cheesesteak.

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