No, unlike Captain Kirk, we didn’t have access to a transporter to beam us back to Philadelphia. But for one hour we felt as if we were back and eating at Tony Luke’s. We were at Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks in Tucson, AZ – a mere 2,000 miles away.
Frankie Santos came to Tucson from Philadelphia, where he grew up in a neighborhood row house (row houses are in the city and townhouses are in the suburbs) on the corner of Third and Porter Streets. When Frankie retired in 2003 and moved to Tucson, his two objectives were to play golf and to open his own restaurant that would bring a great cheesesteak to Tucson.
You walk into Frankie’s Cheesesteaks and are immediately transported. Along one wall are a cluster of posters depicting Center City and City Hall with the statue of William Penn on top, South Street and Jim’s Steaks, Boathouse Row (where the universities and rowing clubs store their shells), and a collage of well-known Philadelphia buildings. On the wall next to our table was an autographed photo of Jerry “The Geator with the Heator”** Blavat and a promotional poster for WIBG (Wonderful World of WIBBAGE)*** a Top Forties AM radio station. (I preferred their arch rival – WFIL.)
Painted on the wall beneath the counter where you place your order are likenesses of the shops of Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s Steaks. And above the counter were the names of famous steak shops--Dinic’s, Tony Luke’s, Jim’s, Chubby’s, Jim's, and John’s along with Scarcone’s bakery,.
And on the back of the staff t-shirts is a keystone (Pennsylvania is known as the Keystone State) containing the words “You’ve Got A Friend At Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks” and the image of the Liberty Bell.
Frankie’s menu has it all. You have your plain steak, your cheesesteak, your pizza steak, your cheesesteak hoagie with lettuce and tomato, and your South Philly cheesesteak with broccoli rabe. You have your chicken cheesesteak and your South Philly chicken cheesesteak. And on your steak sandwich you can have Cheese Whiz, American cheese, or mild provolone.
You have your Italian hoagie (capicolla, Genoa salami, mortadella, Parma prosciutto, sopressata, provolone, lettuce, tomato, onion, oregano, balsamic herb vinaigrette). You have your roast beef or roast pork sandwiches plain or Philly Style with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe.
If you are from Philadelphia and need a taste of home, this is the place to go.
Chuck, being a purist, ordered the plain cheesesteak—no fried onions, no fried peppers, and no pizza sauce—with provolone cheese. I, wanting to replicate my favorite Philadelphia sandwich—Tony Luke’s Roast Pork Italiano (roasted pork, sharp provolone, sautéed broccoli rabe)—ordered the pork sandwich “Philly Style.”
My craving was not to be satisfied. They were out of pork!!! So I settled on the roast beef “Philly Style” with hot peppers on the side.
The first thing you need to know about a hoagie or cheesesteak is that the bread/roll is of vital importance. No fluffy bread here. The roll has to have enough density and chew to hold up against the meat juices or – in the case of a hoagie – the oil. But the roll can’t be as dense as Italian semolina bread. And the crust can’t be too crisp. The best description is that you know a good steak/hoagie roll when you eat one. And Frankie’s has their rolls specially made in Philadelphia by Amoroso’s Bakery.****
The meat in Chuck’s cheesesteak (certified Angus) was chopped and not left in whole slices and had good beef flavor. He did think that the meat was a bit dry, and he didn’t like the cheese under the meat instead of on top of the sandwich. But all in all, this was a very good cheesesteak.
Like Chuck, I thought that the roast beef in my sandwich was a little dry, but unlike Chuck, I had a small cup of au jus to pour over the meat. And I think that Frankie was a bit skimpy on the broccoli rabe. I like lots of garlicky broccoli rabe. My request for the hot peppers on the side was a wise one. These peppers, fried and very thinly sliced, were very, very, very hot. Too hot for even me. Fortunately, each table had a container of hot cherry peppers and peperoncini and I used the latter instead.
If Forefather’s Gourmet Cheesesteaks (in Tempe, AZ) warranted 4.5 Addies, then Frankie’s earns a 4.0 Addie score. Chuck claims that I shouldn’t deduct for the lack of roast pork, but I say, “Yes, I can.”
*Contrary to popular belief, Capt. Kirk never spoke the immortal words “Beam me up, Scotty.”
**Geator: like a gator that snatches its prey, he snatched kids to listen. Heator: rhymes with Geator and just as you would turn down the heater when it gets too hot, parents would yell “Turn that guy (on the radio) down.” So, Geator with the Heator. (It was the 60’s; what can I say?)
***This always reminded me of the late George Carlin’s routine about the inept disc jockey who worked for WINO Radio (slogan: Wonderful Wino).
****Frankie’s also has Tastykakes (including Butterscotch Krimpets and Kandy Kakes) and can order Hatfield’s scrapple for you. (But why would you want it?)