HE ATE
Practice makes perfect

By MARK NIXON

Late one afternoon in Normandy, I stopped at a bakery. I was hungry and prepared to eat almost anything. The baker apologized because all she had left were a few slices of baguette with cheese tucked between them.

I bought. I ate. It was fantastic. I asked the baker how she managed to make such an incredible sandwich.

She smiled. “Répéter,” she said. “Repeat.” Practice, in other words.

The memory came to me recently when I took my first bite of a Philly sandwich at Steakhouse Philly Bar & Grill. The restaurant has crafted its namesake sandwich into an edible work of art. The Original Steakhouse Philly has it all: marinated, shaved sirloin wreathed in grilled onions, topped with provolone cheese melted at the edges, all piled between two thick, chewy slices of baguette.

The whole thing arrives hot off the griddle, still steaming and, frankly, too hot to eat immediately. It takes a lot of “répéter” to make a sandwich this good. But since the Tassopoulos family has been in business since hippies were in vogue, it’s safe to assume folks here have had plenty.

During four visits, I had the Philly twice.

Normally, I don’t order the same thing twice. But my friend, Bruce, ordered this sandwich ($8.59, which includes a side of potato or rice) during my third visit. He pronounced it too dry. B+. So, on my final trip, I ordered the Philly again. It was as good, if not better than the first time I tried it. Sorry, old pal, but I think this sandwich earns an A+.

This place is a veritable melting pot of our community. College students, judges, cops, firefighters, utility workers, men in business suits, retirees in flip-flops — those are the people I see when I walk in. What they get is reliably good food, generous portions, efficient service and an unpretentious atmosphere.

My runner-up favorite after the Philly is the Avgolemono soup ($2.99 for a cup). I fell in love with this Greek staple long ago in Detroit’s Greektown. Steakhouse Philly gets it right: Piping hot, thick with rice and rich with chicken broth, complemented by tart, fragrant lemon juice. They tell me it’s Ya-ya’s (Grandma’s) recipe.

The menu is far-ranging, from burgers and dogs to chili and salads. Liberally sprin kled throughout is Greek fare. I chose the Original Gyro ($7.99) on one occasion.

Inside the pita bread pocket were thin, slightly crisp slabs of lamb and beef. The meats were topped off with fresh tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce. The latter is made of yogurt, garlic and cucumber.

My only beef is that there was too little tzatziki for my taste. Next time, I’ll order extra on the side.

Many of the sandwiches and entrees come with at least one side dish. Go for the rice. It’s cooked in some sort of broth, and it’s fantastic.

The Souvlaki platter ($12.99) is a generous entree of skewered, marinated meat. Though the marinated flavors were spot-on, I was disappointed that it was all pork. And for some reason, instead of the tzatziki I was expecting, I got what tasted like run-of-the-mill sour cream.

The ambience of Steakhouse Philly is akin to “Cheers.” Everybody seems to know somebody. There’s an embedded sense of community about the place, underscored by clever marketing. They serve a special called The Muni, a nod to a close by municipal baseball park. The Muni works this way: After a game, any uniformed player can get a Philly sandwich, fries and a beer for $7.50. Smart.

Back in the ‘70s, I remember seeing, Steakhouse Philly’s predecessor, the Best Steakhouse restaurant, just a 10-minute walk from my college dormitory. Oddly, I never set foot inside. Now it’s more than 40 years later, and I realize I’ve missed out on some good eats for a very long time.

Steakhouse Philly Bar & Grill 11 a.m.

- Midnight, Monday-Saturday.

Noon-11 p.m., Sundays 3020 Kalamazoo St., Lansing.steakhousephilly.com