Kauai may just have the best Philly cheesesteak — outside of the City of Brotherly Love.
Rilly Philly food truck, next to Hilo Hattie’s in Lihue, offers cheesesteak sandwiches described by one Philadelphia visitor as about as good as they get.
“It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience,” said Rich Mitchell, a recently retired steam fitter after 38 years of work in Philadelphia.
While taking in the Poipu beaches, Waimea Canyon, and huge North Shore waves, Mitchell said he hadn’t expected to find a Philly cheesesteaks stand.
“It was pretty authentic, regarding how it tasted, and I must say, I was pretty impressed,” Mitchell said. “You need to have a good roll for it to taste good, and it was baked fresh, and the meat and the Whiz was good.”
After a lifetime of good cheesesteaks, he said Rilly Philly was about “as good as you can get” outside of Philly. He went back four times.
“It reminded me of home a little bit,” Mitchell said.
It’s the first food truck for Rilly Philly owner Brian Campbell, who used to build websites for a living.
As a social person, Campbell said it feels good to get out from behind the computer and be with the public.
Over the year, Campbell said he tried many types of meats, cheeses and breads for his own. Everything must come together to make the perfect sandwich but it starts with the eight-inch rolls. A key component of the overall product, they need to be soft in the center and harder on the edges to be delicious, and strong enough not to fall apart.
“The most important factor is the roll,” he said.
The process seems simple — a grill, some oil, grass-fed, organic meat, onions and cheese. He said quality sirloin means not having to add flavor.
“Cheese Whiz” is a nickname but there is nothing processed about it.
“We like to call it Cheese Whiz but it is real cheddar sauce,” he said.
There is also blue cheese, mozzarella and provolone — all melted on the grill.
There are 11 “Philly famous sandwiches” on the menu. The supreme cheesesteak ($10) adds on caramelized bell peppers and mushrooms. Others include Hawaiian cheesesteak ($10.95) with beef or chicken with teriyaki sauce, bacon, fried onions, fried pineapple, Whiz and mayo.
Optional toppings include marinated chicken breast, Italian roast pork, veggie, jalapenos, mushrooms, caramelized bell peppers, garlic-spinach and bacon.
“This is an authentic Philly cheesesteak,” Campbell said. “This is a taste of how we live in Philly.”
The side menu includes chicken fingers, chili cheese dogs, cheeseburger and a variety of fries and wings.
The cheesesteak originated in the Italian sections of Philadelphia. Campbell will also introduce an Italian dinner menu starting Saturday, including spaghetti, lasagna, fettucini, stuffed pepper as regular entrees, and rotating special items.
Born in Honolulu, Campbell was raised in Philadelphia where he took an interest in cooking at just 8 years old. His cheesesteaks were a hit with family and friends.
The cheesesteak is to Philadelphia as the plate lunch is to Kauai, he said. When the Eagles, Phillies, Flyers or 76ers are in the playoffs, if people aren’t eating pizza then they are enjoying cheesesteaks.
Campbell and his father, Mike, frequented the various cheesesteak spots around Philadelphia and even rated them. Restaurants that bill themselves as authentic cheesesteaks outside of Philly are usually suspect, he added.
Campbell’s father dreamed of opening a cheesesteak stand in Hawaii. They talked about it for over 20 years but it seemed to be a pipe dream.
Campbell returned to Hawaii to care for his ailing father who passed in 2013. After he was gone the project became a tribute to his memory and to carry on the dream that kept them so close.
Campbell and his
brother Eric chose Kauai to be near their mother, who has worked as a nurse at Wilcox Memorial Hospital for eight years.
Among the truck’s five employees is Andrew King, who moved here from the Philadelphia area. He was on island for two weeks and was looking for work when his girlfriend was driving him through Lihue.
The window was open and his senses recognized something before he figured it out.
“I recognized that smell instantly,” King said.
It didn’t take long for the conversation with Campbell to turn into a job.
Rilly Philly is open from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 631-9093.