30-32 Gertrude St
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Cheesesteak. Is there a more glorious compound word in the whole of the English language? For us non-Americans, cheesesteak is a pretty foreign concept, but all it really is is a soft bread roll filled with sautéed steak and melted cheese. Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks doesn’t just make cheesesteaks though; they promise to fill bellies with ‘the only proper philly cheesesteaks in Australia’. Now that is an offer too good to pass up.
Finding Sparrow’s can be a bit confusing. Facing the street is a bar named The Catfish, but if its cheesesteaks you’re after, then you have to walk through the bar until you get to the canteen-like section at the back. The people sitting out front eating sandwiches is a dead giveaway, though.
There isn’t all that much to the place; The Catfish is your standard dive bar, and you’ll find groups sitting in the small courtyard out back, smoking and drinking beer. Perhaps the most impressive feature of all is the shelf of sauces available for our seasoning pleasure. We ordered at the window, and then decided to sit out back because it was such a lovely day. Chris worried about missing our order, but turns out he needn’t have fussed; the blokes in the kitchen holler when each order is ready. And I mean they really holler.
The Cheesesteak with Fries ($15) came hot off the griddle, on top of a pile of golden fries. Aside from the slight disbelief that I am actually eating something so unhealthy, this was pretty great. The glossy, buttery bun was stuffed with a mess of fried steak and onions, melted through with gooey American cheese.
It didn’t take much to convince me to stuff chunk after chunk of this sandwich into my mouth. The combination of fluffy white bread, smoky beef, and creamy cheese felt like everything I had ever needed. Sadly, I couldn’t finish my sandwich, as the richness really got to me towards the last quarter or so.
Being quite a warm day, I forewent the spicy option for the Pizza Cheesesteak ($12). I lasted a lot better with this one, as the addition of mushrooms, pizza sauce, and olives made the cheese feel a lot less cloying. Though less traditional, this was just as delicious.
Though there are some reviewers who have been not so impressed with the cheesesteaks, the adoration for the Onion Rings ($8) was unanimous. Although my favourite will always be the tempura rings done by a no-name fish and chippery at Chelsea Beach, these were pretty impressive. The onion rings were cut wide and dipped in a dry, spiced crumb, and they tasted absolutely amazing with the molasses-sweet BBQ sauce, infused with the fragrance of wood smoke.
Although not something I would have regularly (or even not-so regularly), I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, and I’m glad I got a chance to see just what the fuss was over cheesesteak. Despite not being all that well-versed in what authentic American food is, this seemed more or less like the real deal. Sure, this doesn’t collapse under its own weight like the pictures of ‘real’ American cheesesteaks you find online, but do you really need that?
Rating: 13.5/20 – the catfish ate my cheesesteak!
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.