David Stasney knows Philly cheesesteaks. And he loves them.
As the former production director for Philadelphia Magazine and one of the curators of its annual Best of Philly edition, and more specifically the Best Philly Cheesesteak category, Stasney has eaten hundreds of the city’s signature sandwich. So when the Bradenton resident and his partner Joseph Coccia saw on Facebook that their friend Vivian Lasagni opened a restaurant in Ybor City, the duo went road trippin’.
Located at 1604 N. 17th St. in a 314-square-foot building with an adjoining patio, Ybor Eats seemingly appeared overnight. Two or so weeks ago, Pollo Garden occupied the space, a 314-square-foot building with an adjoining patio at 1604 N. 17th St. In the decades before that, the building housed a full spectrum of eateries with ethnic and traditional cuisine.
The proprietors of Ybor Eats — Vivian, her husband Larry and her son Garrett Clayton — adore food. Their careers have been shaped by the restaurant biz.
Born in New York, Larry, who’s operated Ybor parking lots for 22 years through his Parking Management Services company, launched his first restaurant, Daytona Beach’s Fill Your Belly Deli, at age 25, while Vivian has worked in nearly every capacity of the industry. After 10 years, she left Seminole Hard Rock’s Green Room in March to work on her family’s restaurant. Clayton, meanwhile, entered the food world at age 14, packing delivery coolers with hoagies and cheesesteaks in his mother’s native state of New Jersey. In the 15 years since, he’s worked up to management positions, most recently at Sarasota’s Stonewood Grill & Tavern.
Larry’s Ybor presence and his friendship with building owner Rick Perez sparked an idea. Noticing just a handful of restaurants serving breakfast, Larry signed a long-term lease with Perez to open his own neighborhood spot. The family collaborated on Ybor Eats’ bill of fare and overwhelmingly agreed on one thing: the Philly.
In the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, cheesesteaks are iconic. Heated rivalries still revolve around ingredients, integrity and quality.
The language of ordering the sandwich is legendary, and reveals whether or not you are a Philly native. To score a single traditional cheesesteak with onions, you’d say, “One whiz with.” And for no onions, it’s, “One whiz without.”
When Stasney and Coccia settled into Ybor Eats, they both ordered the Classic Cheese cheesesteak, one of three Philly options featured. It wasn’t what they expected. The restaurant’s rendition has peppers; the duo ordered without. And Cheese Wiz isn’t anywhere on the menu.
Larry stood nervously inside, waiting for some form of reaction as the pair indulged.
“Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore,” Larry says. “I just needed to know.”
The response was a resounding two thumbs up. Stasney, an amateur chef who has traveled the world and dined in the most exclusive restaurants, called his sandwich “superb.”
“I was really surprised as they had the correct ratio of meat and cheese, and the drip factor was perfect. I needed lots of napkins” Stasney says. “It’s a variation from the original, but it’s pretty darn good, including the bread.”
Cheesesteaks in Philly are made with bread from the famed Amoroso’s bakery. Ybor Eats is working with a master baker at Mauricio Faedo’s Bakery in Seminole Heights. Cheez Whiz isn’t the only thing missing; plates, forks and knives are also absent from the eatery, though they’re available upon request. Breakfast offers quesadillas, scrambler wraps and Cubans, and 20-plus sandwiches and wraps are showcased during lunch.
“We wanted it to be simple, where you can hold every item in your hand,” Vivian says. “Here, it’s all about the food, enjoying your self and having a sense of humor.”
Now in its sixth week, Ybor Eats, which has seen great response through word of mouth, continues to tweak its menu. Signs should arrive soon, and hours may be extended as the business plan evolves.
Is the Philly the restaurant’s best-selling item?
“Oh yes!” Vivian says. “For many people here, it’s a taste of home.”
“There’s nothing like a Philly cheesesteak for comfort food.”