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Philly cheesesteaks are proliferating the District of Columbia as restaurant operators seek crowd-pleasing new revenue streams, even if it means burying sports-related grudges with our neighbors to the north.
Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken teased its new ghost restaurant, Satellite Sandwiches, on social media this afternoon. Ghost or “virtual restaurants” operate out of and alongside existing licensed eateries and use the same labor and equipment. The offerings are intended for takeout or delivery only. Some operators use these restaurants to try out new cuisines, while others repackage their current menu offerings under new names. An increasing number of establishments are experimenting with these enterprises during the pandemic because a fresh brand has the potential to attract new customers and drive revenue without significant overhead.
Satellite Sandwiches allows customers to build their own cheesesteaks starting at $11.50. They can also opt for a “Philly Classic,” which curiously gives diners the option between smoked gouda or provolone ($12.50). While provolone is a fairly traditional topper, some cheesesteak traditionalists will raise their eyebrows at gouda. There are three other cheesesteak variations ($13 to $14.50) on the menu: pizza steak, pepper steak, and a cheesesteak hoagie. (Some consider the last option to be blasphemous.)
An Instagram post suggests Satellite Sandwiches will officially open for business on Monday, but look for them to soft open over the weekend. Delivery will be available through DoorDash and UberEats. No word on their hours of operations yet. Home base is Astro Doughnuts’ restaurant at 1308 G St. NW.
Satellite Sandwiches joins two other ghost restaurants specializing in cheesesteaks that have launched since August: Ghostburger operates out of Espita in Shaw and Jimmy’s Philly Steaks operates out of I’m Eddie Cano in Forest Hills.
Ghostburger came first, launching over the summer. Its launch coincided with the return of Espita’s Executive Chef Robert Aikens, who had been working in New York. Both Aikens and Espita Chef de Cuisine Ben Tenner have cooked in Philadelphia.
They call their offering “A Real Philly Cheesesteak” with a bit of ‘tude, despite the fact that it has garlic mayo on it. The rest of the Sarcone’s roll is filled with shaved ribeye, caramelized onions, and white cheddar sauce. You can choose between 8 oz. of ribeye ($15) or 12 oz. of ribeye ($20).
They’ve had a successful run. “We thought we were going to do maybe $5,000 in Ghostburger sales per week,” Espita managing partner Josh Phillips told City Paper in September. “The first week we did $25,000.” The addition of the ghost restaurant has helped Espita exceed its pre-pandemic average weekly sales and allowed the restaurant to hire back at least five employees.
It’s no wonder that others would want to give it a whirl. Jimmy’s Philly Steaks kicked off after I’m Eddie Cano’s summer ghost restaurant, Nantucket Clam Shack, ran its course. The Italian restaurant’s chef, James Gee, hails from Philadelphia. His menu is headlined by a cheesesteak made with shaved ribeye, cheese wiz, and onions ($15). It’s just the kind of sandwich you might find at similarly named Jim’s on South Street in Philadelphia.
Try them all, but don’t forget to order from brick-and-mortar restaurants and bars that have courting Philly faithfuls and others with cheesesteaks for years, including Boundary Stone, Bub & Pop’s, and Grazie Grazie. Both Oyster Oyster and HipCityVeg have worthy vegetarian versions. Spread the brotherly love.
If you need this food editor from Philly to lead a cheesesteak tour, I promise to get in at least one fight and talk in a thick accent. That fight won’t be about what should or shouldn’t go on a cheesesteak.