Balboa's brings Philly's traditional sandwich to Naperville

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comPhiladelphia native Payton LaVere is co-owner and head chef of Balboa's Cheesesteaks on Chicago Avenue in Naperville.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comPhiladelphia native Payton LaVere is co-owner and head chef of Balboa's Cheesesteaks on Chicago Avenue in Naperville.

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comPayton LaVere works the counter Thursday at the family-owned restaurant Balboa's Cheesesteaks, where he is co-owner and head chef.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comPayton LaVere works the counter Thursday at the family-owned restaurant Balboa's Cheesesteaks, where he is co-owner and head chef.

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBalboa's Cheesesteaks on Chicago Avenue in Naperville has a location near North Central College and a view looking west toward downtown.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBalboa's Cheesesteaks on Chicago Avenue in Naperville has a location near North Central College and a view looking west toward downtown.

  • John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBalboa's Cheesesteaks opened Oct. 25 at 22 E. Chicago Ave. suite 117 in downtown Naperville.

    John Starks/jstarks@dailyherald.comBalboa's Cheesesteaks opened Oct. 25 at 22 E. Chicago Ave. suite 117 in downtown Naperville.

 
 

The type of sandwich available on seemingly every corner in Philadelphia has made its way to Naperville with the opening of Balboa's Cheesesteaks.

The family-owned restaurant at 22 E. Chicago Ave., Suite 117, brings the traditional ribeye-and-cheese sandwiches that are oh-so-popular in Philly to the Western suburbs with a boxing theme and a focus on freshness.

Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and catering to late-night diners from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday, Balboa's is becoming a favorite for a crop of repeat customers who are glad to find the East-coast staple closer to home.

"They say, 'Outside of Philly, this is the best I've had,'" head chef Payton LaVere said.

The difference at Balboa's is an understanding of the type of meat, spices and bread that make a cheesesteak, a cheesesteak, say owners including LaVere and his mother Karen LaVere, along with Karen's husband Steve Vukasovich, Karen's brother and another partner based in Texas.

While the steak for cheesesteaks at other shops might come frozen in sandwich form, at Balboa's, owners say it comes in large rolls straight from a meat supplier and is sliced at the restaurant daily. So is the bread.

Ingredients for the cheesesteak egg rolls, an appetizer listed on the handwritten chalkboard menu, come straight from Philadelphia, and other necessities come from nearby to be as fresh as possible.

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Chef LaVere himself is a Philly transplant who recently moved to Naperville to take the lead in food prep at the family restaurant. As he mans the grill, customers can find him wearing Chicago Blackhawks caps with snarky T-shirts, such as a bright pink number that reads, "My head says GYM, but my heart says CHEESESTEAK."

Since opening Oct. 25, co-owner and maintenance guy Vukasovich said Balboa's is learning many customers who grew up on Chicago-style Italian beef can find a place in their culinary hearts for an East-Coast take on steak. But for his own tastes, the cheesesteak has scored the knockout punch.

"I'll never go back to beef again," Vukasovich said. "This is it."

Another unlikely draw at Balboa's is found in the drink dispenser, which offers Barq's red cream soda. Customers, such as one repeat who comes from nearly two hours west in Oregon, Illinois, say the red cream is a rare fizzy find that's worth the drive.

Balboa's also might work to expand its drink offerings by seeking the ability to allow customers to bring their own alcohol. Previous efforts to create a BYOB liquor license in Naperville, such as a push by a would-be party bike that wanted to operate in town, have been unsuccessful, Mayor and Liquor Commissioner Steve Chirico said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But Vukasovich said Balboa's might pursue it anyway, seeking to allow customers to bring a limited amount of beer or wine to accompany their cheesesteaks and fries.

"We get people in here all the time asking, 'Why don't you sell alcohol,'" he said.

The restaurant also is considering pursuing a typical beer-and-wine liquor license as well as outdoor seating once summer rolls around.

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