Frank & Andrea dropped its fast-casual pizzeria and Philly cheesesteak joint on a busy corner at the University of Minnesota a couple of months ago with a lot of swagger. They claim to serve the most authentic cheesesteak in town, even suggesting that you can't get a sandwich like this one without jumping on a plane to the East Coast.
But the average Minnesotan wouldn't know an authentic Philly if we woke up in bed with one. I mean, it's just meat, cheese, and bread, right?
Wrong, says Antonio Gambino, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother Frank and father Andrea. The family hails from Philadelphia by way of Sicily.
A classic cheesesteak from Frank's is a satisfying torpedo, respectably greasy but not overly so. Whether handed to you in a foil wrapper or resting on faux newsprint, it has gratifying heft, more length than girth.
"It all starts with the roll. If it's not a Philly roll, it's not a Philly," says Gambino.
There are a handful of bakeries specializing in the Philly roll, but Frank's uses Amoroso's, a century-old bakery synonymous with the cheesesteak tradition.
"It's soft, but it holds the cheesesteak. They got something special going on." A Philly is like pizza, he continues. Good pizza starts with the crust. "If you don't have good crust, you probably don't have good pizza."
Next comes the meat. "It's all about the ribeye. If you don't got ribeye, you're just slacking! You're cutting corners!" All of the meat at Frank's is freshly cut ribeye steak, which they display in a front cooler for transparency.
"People from Philly will come in here and be like, 'What kind of meat you use?' That's why I keep it in the front so that they can see."
Even some people who do hail from Philadelphia and open cheesesteak shops will sometimes try to pass off a pre-cooked, sliced, and frozen product as the real deal, says Gambino. They're gambling that newbs to the cheesesteak game won't know the difference. (Well, now we do.)
Then, "It's all about the Whiz," or "Whiz Wit," if you want to sound like you really know what you're doing— an important detail when visiting the motherland. "If you don't get the order right, they won't even give you the order."
But don't worry. They're pretty Minnesota Nice at Frank & Andrea. "I always tell my employees to recommend it with the Whiz. I wouldn't eat Cheese Whiz with anything else, but it's weird, it just goes with the sandwich."
Finally, the Gambinos add grilled onions, diced, not julienned or cut any other way. "They stay nice and juicy that way and you don't lose any flavor like you do if you cut it too thin."
The Gambinos do serve variations on the classic, like the cheesesteak supreme pictured above, with Provolone, bell peppers, mushrooms, and jalapeños. Gambino's dad likes his "super old-school" with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and ketchup.
Yes, ketchup. Gambino says it's about a 50/50 split between those who agree and disagree with the addition of ketchup on a cheesesteak. He's a classic man, and will look away if you choose ketchup, but you'll have to apply it yourself. And that's where the outlying must end.
"Some people put ranch and buffalo on it, and I'm like see, now you're not eating a cheesesteak."
Frank & Andrea also serves Andrea Pizza. It's their flagship business, originally founded in 1972 and now with three Minneapolis skyway locations. Enormous floppy New York-style slices go for just under $4 and are some of the best New York slices we've had in town. The cheesesteaks are about $9 ($8.35 for the classic). Or, go super luxe and get a Phillymignon: $24.99 worth of cheesesteak made with filet mignon instead of ribeye.
Frank from Philly & Andrea Pizza
1235 Fourth St. SE, Minneapolis