A taste of brotherly love in New Haven

Shem Adams moved to Connecticut from his hometown of Philadelphia in the late 1990s, bringing food for his Nutmeg state friends whenever he came home to visit. Her interest led him to believe there was a market for authentic cheesesteaks up north.

“[I said]I might as well try to figure out how to do that,” Adams said.

With some advice and training from Philadelphia steak kings – including the owner of Jim’s on South Street – Adams opened its first location in Philly’s in Norwich in 2011. A dedicated fan base of Norwich Free Academy students “catapulted us,” he said, and he did, too, be able to expand space.

As Philly’s cult following grew, it also received the Daym Drops treatment, receiving two rave reviews from the Connecticut-based YouTube food personality in 2014 and 2019. Word of mouth brought people from well beyond southeastern Connecticut, Adams said, but many of them said they didn’t spend time in Norwich on a regular basis.

Shem Adams, founder and owner of Philly's - A Taste of Philadelphia is photographed at his new Connecticut location on Chapel Street in New Haven on April 8, 2022.

Shem Adams, founder and owner of Philly’s – A Taste of Philadelphia is photographed at his new Connecticut location on Chapel Street in New Haven on April 8, 2022.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

So for his second location, Adams looked to New Haven—a visible storefront on Chapel Street, just around the corner from Claire’s Corner Copia, an Elm City institution, and across from Yale’s Old Campus. The new restaurant opened in May and Adams calls the market “perfect”.

“It’s exactly what I expected,” he said. “We now get the customer who walks by.”

Adams is also working on opening a third location in Bennington, Vt., and is also deciding on a spot for a fourth restaurant in Boston, he said. He hopes to open two more in Connecticut, with West Hartford, Glastonbury and Stamford in mind as potential locations.

The food:

Philly’s: A Taste of Philadelphia
1008 Chapel Street, New Haven (and 33 Sherman St., Norwich)
eatcheesesteak.com; @phillysct
Disabled access.

Philly’s offers a variety of authentic dishes from the city of brotherly love. Cheesesteaks are made from quality ribeye cuts and served on traditional Amoroso buns with Cheez Whiz (Wiz, in Philly slang); American or Provolone cheese and topped with fried onions, mushrooms, peppers, bacon, hot peppers and other sauces and spices.

“The Philly,” a classic with fried onions and wiz, is the most popular seller, Adams said, especially among first-time customers who want to experience the sandwich’s traditional construction. Another top item is the “Broad Street Bully” with extra ribeye, provolone, onions, mushrooms, sweet and hot peppers, pickles and spices.

A traditional Philly cheesesteak at Philly's in New Haven, with ribeye, fried onions and wiz.

A traditional Philly cheesesteak at Philly’s in New Haven, with ribeye, fried onions and wiz.

Leeanne Griffin / Hearst Connecticut Media

Cheesesteaks are also available with shaved chicken, and Philly’s even offers vegan versions of chicken and steak to appeal to plant-based eaters. Philly Cutlet sandwiches are made with crispy chicken cutlets in flavors like Chicken Parmesan, BBQ Chicken, and Honey Teriyaki.

The restaurant also offers nachos and fries with meat, vegetable toppings and cheese, and a new Philly steak and egg roll snack with ribeye, cheese and fried onions has been a hit, Adams said. A Phried Philly Bread dessert is topped with ice cream and butterscotch, and Wooder Ice is available in the warmer months.

Eat in or take away?

New Haven Philly’s offers counter service with dining tables and is also a popular spot for takeout and delivery, using several third-party apps.