They say it’s first impressions that count, and Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks makes a dramatic first impression. When you walk into the restaurant in St Kilda, the first thing you see is a giant grill. Although the offerings here include everything from American-style brewed coffee to hockey matches on the TV at night, the grill is the heart and soul of the operation.
It’s been almost three years since Sammy Lynch and Geno Sparrow opened Sparrow's kitchen within The Catfish, a local Fitzroy pub. They also have a Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks food truck, which makes appearances at various festivals around Melbourne. Now, with the new St Kilda spot, they’re bringing the Philadelphia favourite south of the river. It’s just the latest step in their quest for world domination.
“Our plan is pretty much to take over the world, one step at a time,” jokes Lynch. “We’ve got a good foothold in the north – it’s coming up on three years since we opened at The Catfish on Gertrude Street – so it was just time. There are a lot of American-style joints around St Kilda, but no one is doing Philly cheesesteaks.”
In fact, Lynch claims there’s nowhere else in the country doing Philly cheesesteaks. At least, not in what he says is the traditional manner.
“Everyone in Philadelphia has their own favourite way of doing [the cheesesteak], depending on where you go,” he explains. “But the traditional Philly cheesesteak is all based around meat, cheese and onion on a soft, hoagie roll. We’re calling it the first authentic Philly cheesesteak in Australia [due to] the fact that we use the actual American imported cheese, and we also go one step further with the quality of meat we use. We get a lot of people that are hardcore cheesesteak people from Philly, saying that [ours] are better than in Philadelphia.”
But the cheesesteaks aren’t the only things that make theirs authentic. It’s also how the cheesesteaks are served here: with a side of sass.
“We try to keep everything the same: from the style of cheesesteak to the delivery to the banter you get when you’re ordering. There’s a lot of attitude in Philadelphia, it’s a real working-class city, so we try to incorporate that banter into our own delivery.”
There’s a range of indoor and outdoor seating, but the vibe remains intimate. For the inside space – which only seats around 20 people – there’s a series of custom-upholstered family-style booths. There’s a mural of photographs of Philadelphia taken by Sparrow’s friend and Philly local Robert Fitzgerald. As the final touch, a mounted flat-screen television plays a variety of American sports matches – from hockey to football – in the evenings.
“We try to show as much relevance [to America] as possible, and I guess showing American sport is another part of that. We’re trying to cultivate a bit of a family vibe,” says Lynch.
Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks
240 St Kilda Road, St Kilda
Mon to Sun 12pm–12am
This article was updated on March 26.