This week, I visited Mr. Philly at 2701 Fourth Ave. to pick up some to-go grub and to discover a restaurant that might be one of Chattanooga's hidden gems. Located directly across from East Lake Courts, Mr. Philly offers a range of carryout items and, surprisingly, traditional Italian cuisine. I've had more than a handful of people tell me that Mr. Philly has their favorite pizza in town, at $5.99 for a large pepperoni or cheese pizza. Could this be the best pizza in Chattanooga?
A quick look at Yelp reviews and the Mr. Philly Facebook page shows nothing but rave reviews. One reviewer said, "It's the best cheesesteak I've ever had outside the Northeast and as good as any I've ever had up there." Another person described the food as "heaven on earth in the middle of East Lake Courts." In other words, Mr. Philly could be the best-kept secret in Chattanooga since Yum Yum's. Hell, they even have Chicago-style pizza. What is this place?! I couldn't wait to find out.
A note on the takeout menu: Mr. Philly is not associated with the Mr. Philly in Dalton, Georgia. Two different places.
Mr. Philly (that's what I'm calling the owner) has a heavy accent that's noticeable when you give him a call. His no-nonsense approach might be off-putting to some, but I liked that he took my order and hung up the phone quickly. I could've ordered a number of weird items—eggplant pizza, hot dog pizza or a hot wing pizza—or one of his signature Philly steak sandwiches, such as the Rock City Philly (mozzarella and yellow cheese), Glenwood Philly (with ham) or the Riverbend Philly (french fries on the sandwich). Instead, I opted for the standards this go-around because, let's be honest, I'm going to be going back again.
He told me my order would be ready in 25 minutes. The drive over was quick, and I pulled into the parking lot right on time. The building is bright yellow, with the "R" in "Mr. Philly" hanging horizontally. That kind of lack of attention to detail only makes me like a restaurant more. I love dives like this. As that thought ran through my head, I also noticed a friendly pit bull eating a slice of pizza in the parking lot. Inside, Mr. Philly asked me if I wanted a dog, that he'd been feeding him but couldn't take him in because he already had five dogs at home. I suggested he call a local shelter about the problem, but he refused, saying, "They'll kill him." So, if you're reading this and you want a dog, there's a good one at Mr. Philly's. I'm not kidding. Somebody should get this dog. He was friendly. You could name him Phil.
My order was ready when I arrived. He never even asked for my name the whole time, as if I were one of the only people placing an order. I inquired by asking, "How is the business?" and he said he'd rather be in a better location, but that word is getting out that he's there. My entire tab—two pizzas and a Philly cheesesteak—was only $22. That's two large pizzas and a 12-inch cheesesteak. You would be a fool not to at least give it a try at those prices.
The male pit bull was incredibly friendly. He let me pat his head and seemed grateful for the slice of pizza Mr. Philly had offered him. I drove to Monica's house in Red Bank so we could eat and watch "Schitt's Creek," our newest TV binge obsession.
Mr. Philly offers either the New York-style brick oven pizza or a much more decadent Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. I only ordered a pepperoni pizza and cheese pizza, but if these pies are an indication of the overall quality, I can't wait to try some of the more adventurous items. Of course, the pizza isn't Lupi's Pizza Pies-fancy. I would compare it to slices you might get from Mr. T's Pizza & Ice Cream in St. Elmo or UPD Mediterranean Cuisine near UTC—although Mr. Philly edges out both of those budget pizzas in terms of price and flavor, in my opinion. I also appreciated the extra cheese on both pizzas.
The pizzas were good, but the cheesesteak was remarkable. I've never had true Philadelphia cheesesteaks—apologies to Jim, Geno and Joe—but I trust customer reviews that say Mr. Philly has an excellent steak sandwich. The meat was salty, the bread piping-hot, with the peppers, onions and cheese melded together into the perfect flavor. I don't eat a lot of cheesesteaks, but Monica said it was one of the best she's had, and the 12-inch version is easily enough for two meals. I only managed to put a tiny dent in the pizza, too, and I scarfed down four slices. Leftovers for days.
Would we go back?
I'd like to thank those of you who alerted me to Mr. Philly and his location. I'm beaming as I write this because I enjoyed it so much. Mr. Philly himself is a kind soul who is working hard to feed people in what many consider a "dodgy" area of town. I suggest you ignore any hesitations you might have about visiting the area and try this restaurant as soon as you can. Discovering places like Mr. Philly is what I enjoy most about writing this column. Later, come back and let me know what you thought in the comments section. I'm excited to hear about your experience.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 1:24 p.m. on 4/20/17 to correct a factual error: Mr. Philly is not in East Chattanooga, as originally reported.