Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hey! Where’s the Falafel?

We had been out exploring one morning (to be the subject of a future blog), and since it was well past lunch time, we were starving. Fortunately, I had the address of a Mediterranean restaurant that promised great falafel (for me) and great gyros (for Chuck). Unfortunately, when we pulled up we discovered that the restaurant had been replaced by a UPS store. What to do? We’ll go for sandwiches at our favorite bread and sandwich store in Tucson. (This will also be the subject of a future blog.)

So we are driving up Campbell Avenue when we pass Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks. We had eaten at Frankie’s three years ago and came away less than impressed. Do we give them another chance? Are we really hungry? “Yes” to both.

“When you walk in the door and up to the counter to order at Frankie's, either Frankie Santos (owner) or one of the friendly staff
will take the time to introduce themselves and ask your name. We create a welcoming family-type environment that right-off will strike you as being unusual, extremely friendly, welcoming and fun….

"The decor includes pictures and signs from many of the best cheesesteak & hoagie shops in Philly…. Frankie Santos came to Tucson direct from Philadelphia, PA. Grew up on the corner of 3rd and Porter Street in a neighborhood row house. His family has lived in South Philly for the past 45 years” (
Frankie’s was featured on a Food Network show called Outrageous Food (Somehow I missed this one.), featuring outsized and outlandish dishes where he, along with another local chef and a crew of at least a dozen, created the World’s Longest Cheesesteak at 426 feet. Later, the monster cheesesteak “fed residents of the Gospel Rescue Mission plus a few University of Arizona students” (

The walls are covered with Philadelphia-related items.
There are album jackets from “The Best of the Mummers”—an oxymoron if there ever was one.

In another frame is a poster promoting WIBG radio which, in its Top 40 heyday, had on its roster such famous—in Philadelphia, that is—DJ’s as Joe Niagara, Hy Lit, and Allan Dean. The station’s slogan was Wonderful Wibbage.

Time for a digression. I could never hear the slogan Wonderful Wibbage without thinking of George Carlin and his DJ character who worked at WINO Radio—Wonderful WINO. To me, the late George Carlin was the funniest comedian ever, both in his early days and later when his humor took on a harder and vastly more political edge. (“In 2004, Carlin placed second on the Comedy Central list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time, ahead of Lenny Bruce and behind Richard Pryor” []).

While most people associate him with the infamous “Seven Dirty Words,” I can’t think of George Carlin without remembering his riff on the difference between football and baseball. A couple of examples here thanks to “’ In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you'd ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform, you'd know the reason for this custom’ and ‘Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.’"

Yet another wall held a campaign poster from Frank Rizzo’s first campaign for mayor. Rizzo had served as Philadelphia’s Superintendent of Police after which he served for eight years a mayor. The best way to describe Frank Rizzo is to say that in the 1970’s he was Philadelphia’s Joe Arpaio except he and his police force targeted a different minority community. And most Philadelphians believed that there was a dual meaning to the slogan “Rizzo Means Business.”

But enough atmospherics. On to the food. Frankie’s offers the full range of steak sandwiches—plain (no cheese), cheesesteak, cheesesteak hoagie (with lettuce, tomato, and onion), pizza steak, and chicken cheesesteak—along with hoagies, pepper and egg sandwiches, and a Philly-style roast pork.

Chuck ordered the twelve-inch cheesesteak with mild provolone cheese and not “wit”—this means “not ‘wit’ onions”. Frankie has mastered the steak “chop” using the dueling spatula method of preparation.
The meat—Angus Beef—was gristle-free and juicy and there was lots of it. While he asked for mild provolone, on retrospect he wishes that he had chosen the American (Whiz is the third cheese choice) like on the cheesesteaks at Gaglione’s in San Diego.

And, like Gaglione’s, Frankie’s uses Amoroso’s rolls from Philadelphia. And, like Gaglione’s, the rolls arrive every two weeks frozen on a truck. We wonder, does the truck then go on to San Diego.

I was ecstatic to find my all-time favorite Philadelphia sandwich—the roast pork with broccoli rabe and provolone—on Frankie’s menu. My roll contained a heaping portion of thin-sliced pork which had been roasted with garlic and herbs. Atop this sat a garden of broccoli rabe that had been sautéed in olive oil with garlic.
The rabe was so well cooked that almost all of the bitterness in this vegetable had disappeared. Usually this sandwich is prepared with sharp provolone, but I did as I did in Philadelphia and asked for the milder provolone.

How authentic is Frankie’s roast pork sandwich? When we finished eating we had the chance to talk with Frank (shown here with is wife Deb who works the counter), and he told us that he learned to make the roast pork from Tommy DiNic whose version was named “Best Sandwich in America” by Adam Richman on the Travel Channel.

A twist unique to Frankie’s is the small cup of pork jus that accompanies the sandwich. This can either be poured over the meat or, as I did, used to dip the sandwich.

Frank doesn’t stop with the steak sandwiches and Amoroso rolls. He also serves Wise Chips (a Philadelphia favorite), Tastykakes (Philadelphia’s answer to Hostess Baking, and unlike Hostess is still in
business), and Habbersett Scrapple (Don’t ask. It’s pig parts mixed with cornmeal that is sliced and grilled. True devotees eat it for breakfast and pour syrup over it. Ugh!)

“Frankie’s reeks of authenticity, and spares no detail when it comes to providing the genuine article…. Frankie has quickly become a local, joining Tucson’s Originals, and networking with other local chefs and restaurateurs to offer Tucson only the best. And in this case it’s a Philly cheese steak which is not only is the best in town but rivals many in Philly itself!...Once you take your first bite of a Frankie’s cheese steak, or other authentic South Philly fare, you know that Frankie is bringing Tucson more than a gastronomic experience, but his true passion. And what a passion it is, the cheese steak!” (Tom Hopkins at

And our rating? A solid 4.5 Addies. Boy, are we glad we gave Frankie’s a second chance.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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