81 year-old Joann Casciato has owned Colonial Corner Hoagie Shop in Pinellas Park for the past 46 years. For 45 of those, her spot’s been recognized for making one of the “best Philly cheesesteaks outside of Philly” by Philadelphia Magazine. Today, I drove out to the humble hole-in-the-wall to see if the sandwich was worth the hype.
Oh, and PS? I’m a NJ native who lived in Philly for a year. So my taste buds were pretty much born for this.
45 years of excellence in a Pinellas Park strip mall
When I arrived at the 49th street strip mall in which the shop resides, a large banner proclaiming the sandwich’s championship reign was plastered above its front door. The number of years had been taped over and rewritten — probably, I assume, multiple times. From the weathered look of the white poster, Joann might have been using it since day one.
The interior of the restaurant resembled the long, open counter style of many classic Philly sandwich shops. The grill, as well as the cooks operating it, was completely visible. A black and white, 70s-style (or before) menu hung above it. Most of the items listed were under $10.
An iconic sandwich in classic, old-school Philly digs
It wasn’t long after I sat down that Casciato, and her young business partner Brandon Werner, brought me my steak. In true Philly style, I ordered it with mixed cheese and grilled onions. I added mushrooms as well — which a purist would argue against — but, hey, what can I say? I’m a shroom girl.
From the second that juicy, meaty hoagie hit the table in front of me, I knew I was in for the real deal. The grease of the shaved ribeye soaked through the inner fold of the bread all the way to the parchment paper beneath it. The onions, mushrooms and cheese were finely chopped and blended into the steak. I didn’t even have to bite into the sandwich to know that Philadelphia Magazine was onto something.
But, when I finally did taste it, the publication (and Casciato’s) claims were confirmed: Colonial Corner Hoagie Shop absolutely serves the best Philly Cheesesteak outside of Philly.
Serving imported ribeye on fresh-baked bread
“The ribeye I use here is all imported ribeye,” Casciato told me as I devoured one of her famous steaks. “We shave the meat in-house every morning.”
Across the table, Werner nodded.
“More important than the ribeye, though,” he said, “Is the bread. Anyone can get the ribeye, but our bread is baked fresh every morning with Joann’s grandma’s recipe. It’s different than any other bread you’ll find around.”
Casciato chimed in one more time, “And our chefs Tony and Ricky can cook like nobody’s business.”
A heart-filled, family-run operation
Casciato’s family, the pair explained, had been working in sandwich shops for many generations. Her parents owned delis from the Philadelphia suburbs all the way down to Atlantic City. It was within these shops that she first gained her love for cooking.
“At one point, my husband wanted to move to Florida,” Casciato said, “And, when we did, we knew we wanted another deli. So, we opened this place right here. It was originally my husband, my sons and my mother. My mother worked here until she was 92.”
A true family operation, Colonial Corner is still run by Casciato’s relatives, as well as her “adopted” relatives, such as Werner, who she refers to as her “fourth son.”
“My favorite thing about working here,” Casciato said, “Is the people I work with. We have a lot of fun. Even though many of our family members have passed away, the staff we have today still feels like family.”
And, though Werner and Casciato were adamant about their Philly’s bread and meat, it is that history and heart, I concluded, that truly makes their sandwiches taste special.
Ready to try ‘the best Philly outside of Philly’?
Are you a Philly transplant that is looking for a taste of home in the Sunshine City? A foodie on the hunt for the next great hole-in-the-wall? A gym rat hungry for a juicy, cheesy cheat day?
Whatever your reasoning is, I urge you to hurry down to Colonial Corner Hoagie Shop and get your hands on one of the Casciatos’ iconic steak sandwiches. Your tastebuds — and your Instagram feed — will thank you.
Colonial Corner Hoagie Shop is located at 7201 49th St N in Pinellas Park. To explore the restaurant’s full menu, operating hours and more, prospective guests can visit the shop’s official website here.
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