For Joel Dunlap, there was no question about expanding the successful business his parents Patrick and Kristine built at Rocky’s Pub in North Little Rock, but the prohibitive costs of opening a second brick-and-mortar location proved to be out of reach. After seeing the growing popularity of food trucks across the city, the Philadelphia native decided that the best way to bring his cooking south of the Arkansas River was to condense Rocky’s menu down to one item, an Italian-style Philly cheese steak, and serve it freshly made from the back of a small mobile cart. The result is Philly’s To Go, which made its debut last week at Southwest Little Rock’s University Market @ Four Corners.
“It reminds me of camping,” says Dunlap as he maneuvers around a cart no bigger than an average hot dog cart, “I just pack up the cooler early every morning and go.” The cart is equipped with several covered wells that are full of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients as well as a small flat-top grill that allows him prepare his cheese steaks to order. Each sandwich starts with a generous amount of tender, thin-sliced beef cooked fresh peppers, onions, or mushrooms. A generous helping of Swiss, provolone, or American cheese comes next, and I had a lot of fun watching Dunlap melt the cheese and work it into the meat mixture to create a savory, gooey filling that was almost too much for the crusty bread. Like the cheese steaks at Rocky’s, Dulap offers a side of tangy marinara sauce with each sandwich, a unique topping that won me over after the first bite.
Although only 24, Dunlap is a long-time veteran behind the grill, and he’s not above a little showmanship while he prepares the cheese steaks that he hopes are just the beginning of a growing business and more diverse menu. “I’d like to make anything on the cart just like we do at Rocky’s,” he says, including homemade meatball and sausage sandwiches, but for now he’s trying to gain fans by making the best cheese steak in Southwest Little Rock, and with his focus on fresh ingredients and generous portions, there aren’t many better sandwiches around. Dunlap plans on mainly parking at the University Market, but he’s scouting other locations as well. Follow Philly's to Go on Facebook and Twitter for updates on specials and location.