“Where ya from?” I ask Kenny Washington, one of the owners of Fat Philly’s Wings & Things (886 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive S.W., 404-254-3113, www.fatphillys.net). “D.C.," he says. “What kind of rolls do you use?” I ask with my left eyebrow in a slight arch. “Amoroso's. Why? You trying to see if my cheesesteaks are the real thing?” He laughs and throws me a wink. Before I can say anything else, my boyfriend mentions some Northeastern sports rivalry and they start yapping in unintelligible male-speak. I go into food mode.
It’s Sunday, which means grease is in order and all food (and drink) sins will be forgiven tomorrow. I go for the triple cheese cheesesteak with extra cheese and meat. The man orders the ribs with baked beans and potato salad. As we wait—and wait you will since this place operates at a down-home pace—I scan the digs. The space is quite modern and feels a little like a franchise with its bright blues, brushed metal accents and booming surround sound. The counter is a great spot to see the cooks in action, but the tables give you a prime vantage point for my favorite pastime: theater of the living. A cluster of ever-present policemen in winter garb huddle around a table noisily chatting with their eyes fixated on one of the mounted flat-screen TVs. Students from the nearby AUC drift in and out in their just-rolled-out-my-dorm-room-bed best.
When the food arrives, it’s hot and there's a lot of it. I'm always wary of any cheesesteak outside of Philly, but this spot has the pedigree because Washington’s family ran a cheesesteak joint in Philly for 20 years. Each warm 10-inch roll is packed tight with 8 ounces of thinly sliced knuckle meat and your choice of cheese. I still like to get extra cheese and meat because you might as well go whole-hog. The combination of Cheez Whiz, provolone and American on the triple cheese cheesesteak might just be the answer to the notorious Philadelphia cheese wars. The mix of cheeses adds a sumptuous creaminess that enrobes the peppery beef and onions.
Chicken wings come in a variety of styles and sizes. Truth be told, the signature garlic Romano cheese sauce didn’t wow us. But the puckering lemon pepper sauce is top-notch, and the fresh—never frozen—wings are consistently crispy.
Turkey is another area where Fat Philly’s excels. The restaurant specializes in whole fried turkeys injected with Cajun butter, which you order in advance. But you can also get a fried or smoked leg when they have them as specials. Washington’s partner, Mike Irby, comes from Mobile, Ala., so ribs are naturally on the menu. The ribs (only available on the weekends until the summer) are smoked for four to five hours until they fall off the bone; “no respectable grill man would ever boil their ribs,” he says. The tangy mustard seed barbecue sauce is Washington’s tribute to his grandmother, who kept him motivated in tough times with the old Baptist saying, “as long as you have the faith of a mustard seed, it’ll come.” Each order of ribs comes with a side of smokin’ baked beans and some damn good potato salad the guys call “the wet” for its cooling attributes.
Fat Philly’s has a full liquor license, but what about those nights when you are already half in the bag, starving and too lazy to cook? I know you’ve been there. We’ve tested the delivery service—a godsend for us deprived Castleberry Hill residents— on such occasion(s) and the cheesesteaks travel incredibly well. A little too well if you ask my “skinny” jeans.