Nov 4, 2012
Most people who know me are aware of my views regarding food, and particularly that I subscribe to the philosophies of the slow food movement. They also know I currently work at a farm-to-table restaurant, and that I haven't eaten major chain fast food since before attending culinary school. But regardless of all that, I'm still an American, and hot dogs smothered in countless condiments and chili cheese fries will always have a place in my heart. We may not like to admit it, but I'd like to think there's a little Guy Fieri in all of us (hopefully regarding palate and not fashion sense).
In this regard, I miss my home of North Jersey. While I thought it was pretty lacking in terms of anything culinarily advanced compared to the places I would work at and eat at across the river, there's a reason so many places there have been featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. I mean it's not just that we have a lot of diners, but there are "fast food" places everywhere that aren't part of any major corporation, and may just have a few sister restaurants at best (hardly what I would call a true chain). Rutt's Hut for hot dogs, White Mana for sliders, pizzerias almost on every block, and of course diners everywhere open all night. While corporate fast food as well as casual chains are commonplace, there are plenty of other options, and while not everyone agreed with me, I found no reason to spend my hard earned money at most businesses that weren't locally owned (okay, I'd enjoy a Chipotle burrito every now and again).
Frankies is a Connecticut hot dog restaurant that began in 1937 and proclaims itself to be "The Gourmet of Fast Food". It now has a handful of locations in CT, as well as this one on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, a few blocks away from where I live. The Tampa location was started by a University of Tampa student who had worked at one of the CT locations of Frankie's while in high school. While "gourmet" may be a stretch, I would much rather satisfy my occasional cravings here than with whatever the clown and the king have to offer. While the prices, like almost all non-corporate "fast food" restaurants, are slightly higher than the big chains, they have all types of deals running on different days (2 for 1 hot dog happy hour, 2 dollar burger night with unlimited toppings, etc.). I recently found an offer on Groupon for $20 worth of food for $10, and since Groupon gave me a $15 bonus to use towards anything, the $20 coupon was free. So there are deals to be had here, sometimes even better than the corporate alternatives.
I ordered about 33 bucks worth of food and drink, which was more than enough for Terika, Jewel and I, but since I only had to pay the $13 difference after the coupon, it was more than worth it.
Serria Nevada on tap is 9 bucks for a pitcher. There are a few other "premium beers" as well. Domestic beer is 8 bucks a pitcher and Jai Alai is 10.
Jewel had a Frankie Jr., which is a shorter kid's version of their Famous Frankie hot dog. The nice thing about the kid's menu or any combo/platter here is that "choice of fries" means steak fries, curly fries, tater tots, or onion rings. Since we ordered a side of curly fries with chili and cheese, and I don't find steak fries or tater tots particularly interesting, I got her onion rings so I could evaluate one. They were good, breaded like classic diner onion rings (as opposed to battered) and very crispy. They looked and tasted homemade, so if they were frozen they sure had me fooled.
Terika normally would order an Italian sausage sandwich with peppers, onions, marinara and provolone, but to her (and my) disappointment, it was taken off the menu. She decided instead to get an order of fried clam strips. Growing up, I really loved fried clams (they formed sort of a trifecta with fried shrimp and fried calamari) but all too often, even down by the Jersey shore, a young underpaid cook would drop a handful of frozen clam strip into the fryer and let them ride until they resembled rubber bands with a dark brown crunchy coating, tasting more of old oil than anything else. At Frankies, they were cooked perfectly. Probably still frozen, but I'm okay with that. And unlike good oysters, clams - whether fresh or frozen, raw or fried - just beg for cocktail sauce. They offer tartar as well, but trust me, you want cocktail.
One of the offerings that keeps me coming back to Frankies for more is the curly fries with chili and cheese. You can get steak fries or tater tots this way also, but I doubt either would be as good as the curly fries, which are of the "coated" variety like most curly fries and therefor extra crispy. Sure, the cheese is processed and fake, and the chili is just heavily seasoned tomatoey ground beef, but together something magical happens. Pasteurized processed cheese product is something I'm usually vehemently opposed to, but for some reason, when it's of the sauce variety and smothering french fries, it's just hard to resist. Would I prefer a mornay in it's place with perhaps legit chili con carne? I don't know, I'm sure gourmet chili cheese fries would be good but unless it's going to cost $3.99 - or in this instance pretty much free - then I'm not just ready to give this stuff up entirely.
A Famous Frankie is perhaps the real draw here (in addition to the chili cheese fries of course). The bun is toasted rather than soft and squishy, which I kind of like although the squishy (and even sometimes steamed) bun definitely has it's place in the world of hot dogs. The dog itself is long (a foot) and thin, with a casing that becomes wrinkled and even charred in places. Without toppings I would say the dog itself is great and the bun is good. But the real beauty of a Frankie's hot dogs are all the free condiments at a station in the corner of the restaurant. New York onions, hot relish, sweet relish, diced onions, and/or sauerkraut all make for a great custom hot dog. I put all of the above on mine except sauerkraut because by the time I got to it I had no more room. I guilded the top with deli mustard, but maybe next time I'll remember to put that on the bun first. They offer a few different "Internation Frankies" with different toppings based on the country (although I'm not sure why a "French" would have nacho cheese) but I never bother with those. Although they are only 30 cents more, the free stuff is all I need.
Not nearly as good as the hot dogs are the burgers. A 1/4 lb cheeseburger was dry and shriveled enough to seem like it was 1/8 lb after cooking, with a good half and inch of bun extending past the patty on all sides. While fast food buns are often bleached out and full of preservatives, this one was just dryer and crumblier than it should ever be. The classic fast food accoutremants - american cheese, iceberg lettuce, mediocre tomato, onion, pickles, and mayo - were the same as they always are, which is to say neither great nor bad. But the bread and the meat were the downfall.. I would only order one again if they bring back burger night, where cheeseburgers were $2.50 (hamburgers $2.00) and had unlimited free toppings (that would normaly be $.50). Even then, I would try to convince them to "undercook" (aka properly cook) my burger as well as pretend they are just big sliders.
In summary, stick to the dressed up curly fries and dogs, as well as beer and if you don't go here often -- which you probably shouldn't - try to catch a deal because there's more than enough of them. It should more than satisfy your fast food cravings, although I'd go elsewhere for a burger.
909 W. Kennedy Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33606