By Michelle Farnham
Sept 12, 2022
SANTA ROSA BEACH – You might have been to South of Philly before (or perhaps you drove right past it on 393, too focused on getting to the beach), but you haven’t been to this South of Philly.
New owners Patrick and Kari Miller, who purchased the 13-year-old sandwich and salad shop in February, have been rolling out enhancements, drawing from their extensive fine dining restaurant backgrounds.
“This was the first restaurant we ever ate at when we moved here seven years ago,” Patrick said. “Our background is more fine-dining, but we saw this type of restaurant as a good model for this area for the future. It’s one of the few affordable places in the area that we can all eat at: locals, families, visitors.”
“About 80% of our business is locals,” Kari added, saying their lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. are wildly popular. “We’re not trying to change anything about the food here, only enhancing certain things and adding more to the menu. We kept all the stars.”
Of course the brightest shining star of any place named “South of Philly” would have to be that most Philadelphia of hoagies: the cheesesteak.
“We hear it all the time: our cheesesteaks rival anything in Philadelphia,” Patrick said. “It’s all about the roll, and we use the Amoroso’s Roll, which we bring in straight from Philly. It stands up to the juice, it’s not dense, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. And once you have our cheesesteak with our hot pepper relish, you’ll never want another one without it – as long as you can handle the heat!”
“It’s cooked perfectly, and the bread holds up perfectly, even as a to-go order,” Kari said, noting that more than half of their business is takeout, making it a great option for a meal at the beach. The Millers have partnered with 30aGrubtogo to offer local delivery, as well.
While cheesesteak is certainly the signature, the gyros, meatball subs, and monster salads are very popular, too. Burgers are offered old-fashioned style, BBQ Bacon, Mexicali or kid-sized.
“I’d put our burgers up against any burger in the area,” Patrick assured. “Each one is hand-pattied, two 4-ounce patties, so it’s a half pound of meat!”
Sides include the crinkle-cut fries with a secret seasoning blend that features Old Bay, impressively sized onion rings, and the revamped sweet potato fries that border on dessert with their cinnamon-sugar coating.
Or try something new-to-you with Aunt Helen’s Beans, a holdover from the original owner’s family recipe, featuring pinto and lima beans with ground beef, bacon, onions and a sweet barbecue-type sauce.
“Some people don’t want baked beans all the time, and a lot of people come here for the fries, but once people have it, they love it,” Kari said. “It’s not your average bean.”
Don’t sleep on the South of Philly signature sauce, either, a mayo-based sweet and spicy concoction that can be ordered on the side.
The dining room has seen some changes under the Millers as well.
“I’m an ’80s kid, so everything you see on the walls, you’ll appreciate in some way, and anything on the wall that’s been signed is legit,” Patrick said, gesturing toward an image from the original “Karate Kid,” which he said today’s teenage customers think is from the franchise’s TV reboot “Cobra Kai.”
A new wall of banquette seating brightens up the space, while the complex has an outdoor seating area available to diners, complete with shade umbrellas, all made possible by friends and former colleagues of the Millers.
As a U.S. Army combat veteran himself, Patrick is also developing a Hall of Heroes to honor friends and family who have served, including dear friends lost in Iraq. Look for a special guest appearance by fellow Memphis son Elvis Presley.
South of Philly is at 1598 S. Co. Hwy. 393, just north of Gulf Place. Hours run 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but check in on holiday weekends for extended hours, possibly including Sunday service. Reach them by phone at 850-622-1055 or visit www.southofphilly30a.com.
Photos by Michelle Farnham