By Stephen H. Crane III
Frankie’s South Philly Cheesesteaks
2574 N Campbell Ave | (520) 795-2665
South Philadelphia, born and raised, in the kitchen. That’s where I spent my days.
Now I live in Tucson, which makes it hard to get my hands on a genuine Philly cheesesteak that reminds me of home. At least it was, until I found out about Frankie’s. I have seen places from all over that try and fail to replicate the Philly cheesesteak. At first I did not even consider that Frankie’s would actually succeed, but it does.
I went in with my mother, who is also from Philadelphia, and took an appraising look around. There were signs and murals that represented the most famous places in Philly. My mother had actually been here before me, and she was the one who initially told me to check it out because she said it reminded her of home. I did not actually get around to doing so until she came back to town, and off we went together. And she was right.
Walking in and seeing the mural along the wall with a scene of Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s Famous Steaks — the two most famous cheesesteak joints, competitors that sit across the street from one another in South Philly — made me feel like I was back in town. They sell Wise potato chips, and even Tastykakes, which are practically the law in any respectable Philly steak joint. My grandfather used to send me a care package with Tastykakes direct from the ancestral home of those venerable packaged pastries in Philadelphia, just as the ones at Frankie’s are. Although Tastykakes at now sold nationally at places ranging from Wal-Mart and Circle K here in Arizona, between you and me, frankly, they are not the same as the ones that came from the city of my youth.
Anyway, I ordered a Philly cheesesteak with provolone, my favorite. My mother and I also got a side of cheese fries to share, and she got her own cheesesteak. So we were all cheesed out.
The waitress came out to call our order, and when she delivered it, I saw a thing of beauty to a South Philly boy. I am not talking about the waitress, either. I mean that the cheesesteak was out of a hungry dreams It has been that long since I had a great cheesesteak, and when I took my first bite, I knew I had come to the right place. The cheese melded with the thinly sliced steak, on a fresh, chewy roll that said, “Yo, Philadelphia!”
In previous failed quests for a decent cheesesteak, I always blamed the bread here, because submarine rolls in Arizona (and most anywhere else in America) don;t have the same taste and texture as the ones from Philly. But Frankie’s claims that they import all of their rolls from the Amaroso bakery in Philly. Amaroso’s With a nice firm crunch on the outside, and a soft, fluffy but chewy inside, Amaroso is the gold standard for a steak sandwich roll. Frankie’s menu speaks to those who know and proclaims, “All Sandwiches Served on Imported Philly’s Amoroso Rolls!”
Frankie’s also makes Italian hoagies — another regional belly-bomb specialty that is hard to find replicated outside of Philadelphia and its suburbs in Pennsylvania and South Jersey — as well as chicken cutlet sandwiches, another favorite. The menu also offers roast pork sandwiches, salads, and even vegetarian options that I do not recall from South Philadelphia, but hey, times do change.
A man named Frankie Santos owns the place, and he is actually from Philadelphia. He grew up on 3rd and Porter Sts. in the heart of South Philly, and moved to Tucson with his wife, Deb, bringing their tastes in sandwich specialties out West with them. He had started a cheesesteak restaurant named Daglio’s in Philadelphia as his first venture, and once in Tucson he opened Frankie’s in 2003. His slogan: “Our goal at Frankie’s Philly Cheesesteaks is to make our Frankie’s Friends happy…”
The $7.60 price of the steak sandwich matched what it typically would have been back home. What seemed a little expensive though, were the fries, at about $3.25 for a large order, which looked as if it were enough for one person. But hey, who’s complaining?
O.K., a small complaint. The food itself was great, but the hours aren’t at all what you’d find in Philly, because Frankie’s is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Hey, in Philly, you can roll in and grab a cheesesteak any time of the day or night, and many do. There, the most famous cheesesteak joints are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You’d be surprised who you can run into at 4 a.m. at Pat’s, which like Genos has a gallery of photos of visiting celebrities on display.
Here’s a link with cheesesteak lore, direct from Philadelphia: