9 On The Line with Frankie and Deb Santos of Frankie’s Cheesesteaks

Frankie “Cheesesteak” Santos and his wife, Deb Santos, own and operate Frankie’s Cheesesteaks at 2574 North Campbell Avenue. In their 11th year of business, the husband and wife team will be the first to tell you that some days are more in harmony than others. However, both Frank and Deb believe in their heart of hearts that what matters most is staying true to the Philly taste for their guests.

1. What was the first dish you had that changed your perspective on food?

Frankie: Holiday Meals, especially Thanksgiving! Waking up to the aroma of the turkey in the oven, candied sweet potatoes and all the traditional fixings that go with it. Sitting down with family and enjoying the wonderful food and family.

Deb: Minnesota State Fair! There is nothing like it on earth! Food is such a big aspect and so many types of food on a stick, and it is amazing food too!

Cheesesteak from Frankie's Cheeseteaks

Cheesesteak from Frankie’s Cheeseteaks (Photo credit: Frankie’s)

2. What are you eating these days?

Frankie: Aside from the recipes from South Philly and my South Philly Mafia cookbook (Yes I really have one), we love going to restaurants and trying new dishes. I love Acacia’s King Louie Salad, Pastiche’s Wild Boar Sausage, Brushfire BBQ’s Pulled Pork, Brisket, and Kingfisher for Oysters.

Deb: I grill almost everything. Our oven gets used very rarely. I grill steaks, Beer can Chicken, ribs, and veggies. Back in Minnesota I would grill until the patio door froze shut. I also love Acacia for their three onion soup, Bistro 44’s pineapple shrimp, Dante Fire’s foie pops, Rocco’s and Cup Cafe are also favorite food stops of mine.

3. What was the first dish you remember cooking?

Frankie: Steak-Umms, fried onions on Wonder Bread, because it builds your body 12 ways!

Deb: Chocolate chip cookies. Also at a very young age I had to cook dinner for the family during the planting and harvest season on the farm in Minnesota. Starting at the age of 9, my meals were not very good but it was something warm and overcooked to take to the field to feed my parents and brothers! My cooking has improved a lot over the years!!!

4. What concept, ingredient or food trend does everyone seem to love, but you just can’t stomach?

Frankie: When restaurants tout that “they treat you like family”. When our family comes to our restaurant or our home, we never give them a check!

Italian Hoagie from Frankie's Cheesesteaks (Photo credit: Frankie's)

Italian Hoagie from Frankie’s Cheesesteaks (Photo credit: Frankie’s)

5. What chef, with us or passed on, would you most like to cook or eat dinner with?

Frankie: Jacques Pepin and my Father. My Father cooked on ships and tugboats, I am sad that I never had the honor to cook with him.

Deb: Julia Child, I would have been so intimidated and awe struck too!

6. What city, other than Tucson, is your favorite place to eat?

Frankie: Philadelphia/Italian Market. It does not get any better than this!

Deb: Minneapolis of course! How I miss the Jucy Lucy from Matt’s Bar!

7. Speaking in junk food terms, what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

Frankie: Oreo Cookies, Ritz Crackers with Peanut Butter, Haagen-Daz’s Dark Chocolate Covered Chocolate Ice Cream Bars, and don’t laugh at me, Big Macs.

Deb: Old Dutch Ripple Potato Chips, Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and Chocolate Covered Strawberries

8. Top three Tucson restaurants?

Both: This is tough to just try and name only three.

Frankie: Acacia, Kingfisher, Dante’s Fire.

Deb: All of the above plus: Tavalino, Cup Café, East Coast Super Subs.

9. With a figurative electric chair in your immediate future, what is your last meal?

Frankie: A bite of each, a Cheesesteak, an Italian Hoagie, and a Philly Pork. Then I would have, from Villa de Roma in Philly, Mussels in White Sauce, with a Kettle One Martini straight up with a twist and an Butterscotch Krimpet Tastykake for dessert.

Deb: Silver Butterknife Steak from Murray’s Steakhouse Minneapolis, MN. It is to die for…

C.J. Hamm is a native Tucsonan and has been covering the local culinary and cocktail scene since 2012.