SUN PHOTO/LIZA MORROW
Shawn Waters makes customers feel at home at Solo’s Pizza in Holmes Beach.
By Liza Morrow
sun staff writer
Anna Maria Island is grouper sandwich country, but just south of Publix in the Holmes Beach Shopping Center is an eatery without a fish item on the menu (except for anchovies) called Solo’s Pizza. Pizza lovers already know Solo’s for the fresh toppings and crackly crust pies. Pizza does not get better!
Transplanted Philadelphians and other true cheese steak aficionados also know this as the only place on the Island to get Philly cheese steaks. Do not get us wrong. We enjoy Solo’s pizza, especially the white pizza, quite a bit. And don’t think for a minute that we’re switching loyalties away from fresh seafood, but sometimes we need a true sandwich – a Philly cheese steak sandwich – a game on the big screen and a friendly guy behind the bar that knows what we drink.
"I always wanted a small place to call my own, live or die, and all of the decisions would be mine. Sandwiches. Pizza. Wings. The kinda place I like to go to that serves food that I like to eat," said owner Shawn Waters, a big personable guy who, in the true sports bar tradition, just wants to feed you, pour you a cold beer and make you happy.
"Sports and food. I would come here even if I didn’t own the place and my employees say the same. I’m lucky. They’ve all worked here for a couple years now. We even have a TV in the kitchen. The customers, the employees. It feels like a family."
"I started here as a partner when it was the Marco Polo Bar. I bought them out five years ago and renamed it Solo’s, so everyone would know I was alone." Shawn explains as he pours a pitcher of icy beer for a gaggle of real estate agents gossiping at a window table and tops off the glass of wine belonging to a pretty brunette sitting at the bar alone.
"It really feels like home for a lot of us and we have fun. Monday is movie night with big bowls of popcorn and an epic movie on the 62-inch, Wednesday is a dart tournament, Thursday is restaurant employee appreciation with happy hour after 10:30 p.m. and Friday and Saturday are, of course, what else but sports. Sunday we open at noon for football season."
Solo’s sticks close to the classic sports bar tradition. Big wooden bar, worn floors, a couple dark booths, lots of vinyl barstools and Formica tables. Food comes on white wax paper in plastic baskets, and everything is cooked to order by a trio of friendly cooks: Josh, Brad and Chad. Boxing, baseball, basketball and hockey memorabilia decorate the walls and a pool table and video games along with 7 televisions and 2 wide screens make Solo’s the real thing.
The Philly cheese steak is the real thing too. It is the classic Philadelphia steak-sandwich model, with thin sheets of sirloin and the standard Philly choices: American cheese, Mozzarella cheese, sautéed peppers, onions and mushrooms. And then there’s the bread. Solo’s uses a soft 6 inch roll, crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside, which toasts perfectly in the pizza oven after a generous stuffing of meat, cheese and vegetables.
Never heard of a cheese steak? Many southerners haven’t. There is no doubt about it, cheese steak is the quintessential Philadelphia food along with scrabble, Tastycakes and soft pretzels. The story goes that brothers Harry and Pat Olivieri were running a corner hot dog stand near the Italian Market in South Philadelphia in 1932. Getting tired of eating hot dogs every day, Pat asked Harry to buy some beef. Harry brought it back, sliced it and grilled it with onions. The brothers piled the meat on rolls and were about to dig in when a cab driver stopped for lunch, smelled the meat and onions and requested one of the sandwiches. Harry sold the cabby his own in a transaction they counted as the origin of the famous sandwich. Sound easy? It is. Just follow Shawn’s instructions and no Rocky Balboa accent necessary!
cheese steak sandwich
1 1/2 lb.sirloin steak
1 large Vidalia or other sweet onion
4 to 6 bell peppers, any color
4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
!/4 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
4 to 6 soft hero rolls or hoagie rolls
1. Tightly roll the sirloin steak in plastic. Place in freezer for 45 minutes to firm the beef into a tight, but not frozen, texture.
2. Remove plastic, and working quickly, use an electric knife to slice the beef into paper-thin strips, almost shaving the beef. If this does not work well, use a sharp knife and cut the beef into the thinnest slices possible, then flatten the slices using a meat tenderizer. Refrigerate slices until ready to cook.
3. Peel and halve onion. Slice into paper-thin, half-moon pieces. Halve the peppers, remove and discard seeds and slice into thick wedges.
4. Warm 2 Tbs. of the oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add onions and cook 8 to 10 minutes, until caramelized and softened, stirring frequently. Do not allow them to brown. Transfer onions to bowl; add pepper to same skillet, still over low heat. Cook peppers 10 to 15 minutes, until soft and tender, flipping often. Transfer to bowl with onions. Season onion-pepper mixture to taste. Cover bowl to keep warm.
5. In a clean skillet, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. oil over medium heat. Cook the beef in 2 batches, until lightly browned and cooked through, stirring often. Add olive oil if necessary.
6. Slice the rolls in half and smear with a bit of mayonnaise. Add a slice of American cheese and toast. Pile beef strips, peppers and onions and mozzarella cheese slices inside the roll and toast until the cheese melts.
3244 East Bay Drive