In the final scene of Goodfellas, we see turncoat mobster Henry Hill complaining about his recent time in the witness protection program.
“Can’t even get decent food,” he laments. “Right after I got here, I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce, and I got egg noodles and ketchup.”
That’s exactly how people with connections to Philadelphia feel about ordering a cheesesteak at most Long Island delis.
“I ordered a cheesesteak, and I got roast beef on a toasted roll,” you might hear them say.
Arnold Gifford of Patchogue has sought to change all that.
“I always liked cheesesteaks, but I could never find a good place to get one,” he said from inside his Beyond Philly shop on Montauk Highway in Blue Point, which he and his wife opened in 2012. “That’s kind of where the idea came from.”
After some field trips to Philly, as well as researching, experimenting and, over time, perfecting the Philadelphia-style cheesesteak-making process in Blue Point, Beyond Philly was named Best Cheesesteak on Long Island earlier this year though the Bethpage Best of Long Island contest run by the Long Island Press.
That marked a milestone for Beyond Philly, which came in third place in the contest the prior year. Gifford said the contest typically includes a few dozen restaurants, though none really specialize in the cheesesteak.
Gifford, who built up the shop with his wife, Jennifer, said making a real Philly cheesesteak starts with a great cut of rib eye and finishes with the right bun. (And also the right cheese, though people have their preferences.)
For his customers, everything is made-to-order — by him and no one else in the shop. He also cuts his rib eye raw on a meat slicer, which he said would be a huge pain for most delis, which are using their meat slicers to shave down ready-made cold cuts for sandwiches that couldn’t come into contact with raw food.
“Delis are usually doing the roast beef, and if you go into most delis, people can’t order melted cheese whiz,” he said. “And even their breads wouldn’t exactly work for a cheesesteak. I had to go a few months before we started making these exactly how we wanted.”
One thing Gifford wants to make clear is that he’s not from Philly, nor did he ever work or go to school there.
“I always get asked, ‘You’re not an Eagles fan, are you?” he said, adding sarcastically that he now realizes “half of Long Island has lived in Philadelphia for a time.”
“Everyone’s an expert on cheesesteaks,” he laughed.
What he also stresses is he’s not simply trying to copy the iconic cheesesteak shops in Philly.
The Giffords are trying to do their own thing.
For several reasons — such as they never freeze their rib eye steaks and no meat ever sits on the grill waiting for a customer — Arnold Gifford is confident his cheesteaks could beat out any of the famous Philadelphia joints like Geno’s Steaks or Campo’s Deli in a taste test.
For a kid from Long Island, that would be an underdog story to rival the Rockys.
Top Photo: Arnold Gifford behind the grill at his Beyond Philly shop in Blue Point. (Michael White)