My friend Joe was back in the area to visit family and asked if I was free for lunch Saturday. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and we set about determining where to go. As Broomall, PA is centrally located between my home and where he’d be, we looked at a couple restaurants there as possible destinations. Our first choice was a Chinese place that – based on my online research – appeared to have potential as the sort of old-school Cantonese restaurant of which I periodically wax poetic. But that possibility fell by the waste side when I called to inquire about their dine-in situation and was told that they are now takeout only.
I have bemoaned this post-Covid trend a few times. It fills me with great sorrow to see so many Chinese restaurants do away with dine-in service. I’ve been eating at them since I was a young child and have countless great memories of such meals. While I like Chinese takeout, it’s not the same as sitting in a nicely decorated dining room and enjoying a flaming PuPu Platter.
But life goes on and so did Saturday’s lunch. Plan B was a return visit to The Original Thunderbird, a classic pizzeria and sandwich shop that looks like it probably hasn’t changed much since it opened in 1956. While it was only my second time there, Joe was a regular in his younger years, before leaving the region for school and career.
The place was packed and we had a bit of a wait for a table.
Their menu is pretty standard, with the usual lineup of pizzas, cheesesteaks, hoagies, etc.
Although I’m usually fairly decisive when it comes to ordering and often know what I’m going to get before arriving at a restaurant, I was having a little difficulty deciding Saturday. Neither the pizza nor steak I had the last time I was there blew me away, so I wanted to go in a different direction. Matters were made a little easier when Joe asked if I’d like to split a couple different menu items and gave me the freedom to pick them.
I opted for another steak and pizza, but changed up the style of each one, ordering a pizza steak instead of a basic cheesesteak and an upside-down pizza instead of their regular pie – I had a special Trenton-style tomato pie during my previous visit.
Pizza steaks are on the menu at the vast majority of places that serve steaks in the Philly region. It’s just a cheesesteak with the addition of tomato or pizza sauce. At The Original Thunderbird they come standard with provolone cheese, which suited me fine.
Our server must have told the grill chef we were splitting the steak, as each half arrived in its own basket.
While it may look like a bit of a mess, this was a very enjoyable steak sandwich. The gooey cheese, sauce, fried onions and coarsely chopped meat went together extremely well. The roll took a turn on the grill, giving it a lightly toasted texture. It needed to be sturdy to stand up to the messy goodness it held, and it was.
It was only last month that I expressed doubts as to whether I should continue ordering upside-down pizzas, meaning one made with the sauce on top of the cheese. I have always loved that style of pie at a favorite pizzeria called Santucci’s, but the results have been mixed elsewhere. Yet I wasn’t nuts about how the Thunderbird’s standard pies looked in the photos I saw online, so I decided to give their upside-down version a shot. It came with a layer of sauce over sliced provolone cheese.
My initial visual impression wasn’t that great, but I felt better about ordering it after taking a bite. The crust was crispy, but not excessively brittle, while the sauce had a nice bit of sweetness that endeared it to me. Throw in the hidden layer of cheese and the three main ingredients combined for an excellent textural experience that also tasted good.
I’d probably continue going to The Original Thunderbird occasionally to enjoy their old-school atmosphere even if I didn’t like the food. But it’s obviously preferable to eat well, and we did that for lunch Saturday. I’m not sure what I’ll get next time, although I know I want to try a Black & White milkshake at some point, preferably while sitting on a stool at their classic counter.