Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, stumping in Philadelphia, stopped by the landmark Pat's King of Steaks for a "common folk" photo-op, and proceeded to place an order for their famous Philly cheese steak sandwich -- "with Swiss cheese." Philadelphians cringed at the faux pas, as did, I'm sure, Kerry's campaign manager, for anyone in that illustrious city can tell you that a Philly cheese steak is made only with faux cheese -- American or, more commonly, Cheez Whiz. Frankie Cupri, native of South Philly, uses white American cheese on the version he serves at his five-month-old Frankie's Big City Grill in Miami Shores. If you ask he'll happily substitute provolone or cheddar, but I'd suggest going with the flow and choosing the faux -- rather than making one.
Frankie's Philly cheese steak sticks to authenticity, from the shaved slices of rib-eye beef to the crisp, fresh Italian bread to the pickled chips of hot sliced peppers on the side. Frankie, or maybe his fiancée Priscilla, will ask if you want sautéed onions on top. In Philadelphia they call this a "cheese with." Say "yes."
That Frankie and Priscilla work behind the counter, and cook, and are on hand to make sure all is operating smoothly, is one major reason why Frankie's Big City Grill strikes me as being the best sandwich shop in Miami-Dade County. Seventy-seven other major reasons would be the 60 sandwiches and 17 breakfast sandwiches themselves. Big selection and "Big City" theme, with the most renowned signature sandwiches of fourteen American metropolises on hand: medianoche from Miami, muffuletta from New Orleans, crabcake from Maryland, pastrami from New York, Italian sausage from Boston ("just like they sell outside Fenway"), strip steak from Kansas City, and so on. I don't doubt that most selections chosen are valid representations of their respective communities, but having grown up in Flatbush, I can assure you I've never had a Brooklyn sandwich of grilled salami and egg with tomatoes and provolone cheese. Such quibbles aside, the sandwiches here are bountiful and consistently delicious.
Frankie's Big City Grill
8601 Biscayne Blvd, Miami Shores
Open Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.; closed Sunday. Call 305-762-5333.
Take the muffuletta. If you can. It's piled so high with salami, capicola, mortadella, and provolone that I suspect even Paul Prudhomme would have to carry some home in a doggy bag. The Italian cold cuts are of course slathered with the green olive spread that distinguishes this from an Italian hoagie (a selection of which is also available). Another defining muffuletta feature is the round, sesame-seeded Italian loaf, into which the meats are stuffed. Indeed the sandwich gets its name from the Sicilian word for this bread, which Italian bakeries in New Orleans would stamp on the paper used to package the loaves, the same paper then used to wrap the resultant cold cut and olive sandwiches. Frankie's disappointingly employs regular Italian bread, but piles the ingredients into one-and-a-half toothsome sandwiches' worth.
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Barbecue pork on shiny, eggy challah roll is likewise luscious, just the sort you'd find at a roadside pit. Barbecue sauce on the side is light, sweet, and mildly spicy -- better than the cloying, fake-smoked, ketchup-based types so often served. There's a whole page of barbecue offerings with the usual meats (pork, ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers) and fixings (coleslaw, baked beans, corn on the cob, and a moist, tasty jalapeño corn muffin).
Other sandwich stuffings, far too numerous to mention, include grilled seafoods; burgers and franks; chicken, meatball, and eggplant parm; and all manner of deli meats and cheeses. Best breakfast sandwich: scrambled egg, American cheese, and bacon wrap.
There are so many types of ethnic sandwiches sold at Frankie's Big City Grill that it might not be a bad idea for future presidential candidates to kick off their campaigns here. They could pose for photos of themselves nibbling on specialty foods from each American city, then send the proper snapshot to its corresponding region (candidate stuffing face with crabcake sandwich to Mid-Atlantic; candidate messily munching medianoche to South Florida; and so forth). In this manner they could get the culinary groveling over in one day, thus sparing themselves a summer of stomach tumult and autumn of Tums. Plus, regardless of what one might think of politicians, everybody deserves a great sandwich now and then, and that's Frankie's forté.
As for the remainder of this campaign season -- someone had better get to John Kerry before he reaches New York and warn him not to request mayonnaise for his pastrami on rye.