The late-night cheesesteaks at Mister Spots draw lines
If anyone can call himself the Philly cheesesteak king of Ohio, it’s Jim Gavarone. But the Philadelphia native — a Bowling Green State University hockey recruit lured to town in the 1980s who never left — is too modest for proclamations like that. He has no shame revealing his cheesesteak eatery is named after his former cat. When we met, he was in an unassuming red t-shirt. He had no egotistical tales of his BG restaurant venture — according to Gavarone’s account of his success, it just sort of happened. “I don’t know how we did it,” Gavarone says. “But the day we opened there was a line out the door.”
Bringing a taste of Philly
That was in 1985. He was a semester shy of graduation with 12 thousand dollars and a suggestion from a friend that he bring his native city’s greatest food contribution to Ohio. He put down the lacrosse stick (after he was injured in his first semester playing hockey, he became the lacrosse team’s go-to guy). He was the hungover 21-year-old making sandwiches. He became the self-deprecating purveyor of cheesesteaks at Mister Spots, where hungover 21-year-olds come for late-night meals. (They’re open until 2:30 am seven days a week.)
Which brings us to those sandwiches: cheese oozing over chopped beef, nestled in rolls shipped from his native city, slices of tomato placed gingerly on top. (For $9.25 you can have the sandwich with waffle fries and a soda to wash all that delicious saltiness down.) The man at the table nearby says they’re the best cheesesteak in Northwest Ohio — he drives all the way from Toledo to have one. He was wearing a neon green safety vest, which in terms of judging sandwiches is as reliable a uniform as any.
There are chef salads and chicken strips, but at 1 o’clock in the morning do you really want a salad? Mister Spots is meant for that late magic hour Cheesesteak, when done right, quenches some evolutionary urge for a fattening calorie fix.
A new ‘Spot’
The new Mister Spots on Main St. in Bowling Green (just around the corner from the original location they closed) opened Monday, August 6. It’s a little more sterile, (the old one made charming use of a ketchup squeeze bottle as a soap dispenser — there is a law recorded somewhere that the best greasy joints’ bathrooms are an afterthought) but has lost none of its simple charms. The walls are still pretty spare, the namesake Spots hasn’t endured any generic makeover. Gavarone has owned Howard’s, the bar next door, since 1999 (it’s been a BG staple since the 1930s).
There’s a Mister Spots in Ann Arbor, as well (his friends run that franchise) that once drew Tom Brady and the entire offensive line of the Patriots. To Gavarone the appeal of his cheesesteaks is hard to explain. “It’s just like a hot dog at a baseball game. You can’t explain why it’s good. You just know.”
Mister Spots, 206 N. Main St., Bowling Green, Ohio. Open 11am-2:30am seven days a week. 419-352-7768. www.misterspots.com.