Frankie the Bull BBQ
When I heard a BBQ place was opening off Morena, about 2 miles from Phil's BBQ, I was thinking this place must be really good or they didn't do their homework. Then I hear it was the project of Frank Terzoli from Top Chef Season 2 and previously Executive Chef at Delicias in Rancho Santa Fe. I love BBQ so I was pretty excited to try it.
So tonight I finally had my chance to see if my dear Phil's had any competition in town. The place was pretty crowded. I ordered a 1/4 slab of pork ribs with 2 sides, I chose cajun fries and BBQ beans and a coke. I thought the atmosphere was ok, except I thought the cowboy hats the staff was wearing were a bit corny and I would have liked some kind of background music.
Apparently there was something wrong with the coke, so I was offered something else and I chose lemonade, which was like water with a lemon.
My food came out pretty fast. The ribs were very tender, almost too tender, even mushy. I thought they were fatty, but had a very nice smoky flavor. The cajun fries were limp but were decent. I think they were flavored with maybe garlic and oregano? The cheddar jalepeno cornbread was average, a very similar recipe as Cook's Illustrated offers. The BBQ beans came with chunks of pork and the pork was the best part of this side. I thought the beans had an overwhelming flavor of cumin, and I couldn't finish them. forgettable at best.
I live close to this place, but until I hear that things have greatly improved I won't go back.
We had gone there for a party they had on opening night. I sampled a number of the items and some were pretty good, including the ribs and the brisket sandwiches but I it was not anything that I would rush back for. I have not found any great bbq in San Diego, including Phil's. There are a few other places that people have mentioned on the board that I will try at some point but I don't think that bbq is a strong point here.
I won't guarantee the bark, but every time I've gotten the brisket or pork it's had a smoke ring. Some times the smoke ring is more pronounced than others. Don't trust me, go try it and form your own opinion :-). It's good, but I don't know how close it is to really good, traditional 'que.
West Coast generally runs specials, watch for coupons. The last time I went they're dining room was packed with people waiting. They do a brisk take-out business, which is usually what I do. The place is about 1/3 the size of Phil's new place and decidedly not fancy or remotely upscale.
We checked out Frankie's on Saturday, had the Pulled Pork sandwich and some ribs.
I actually liked the ribs, thought they were a nice change of pace compared to Phil's which are swimming in sauce, with little smoke flavor. The ribs at Frankie's were very tender, falling off the bone, very juicy, and had a real nice smoke. I didn't need to put any sauce on them at all.
The pulled pork was fairly juicy but could have used sauce (but we didn't put any on oops). The sandwich roll was nice. I will need to try it again with some sauce before I make a final judgment.
I thought the sides were hit/miss, pretty much the same way I feel about Phils. Phil's and Joey's don't have much smoke to them at all (for obvious reasons) but Frankie's does so I don't know if they are doing a short smoking after par-cooking or what. It seemed too strong to just be finished on a wood fire. I looked around for a smoker but there are some back areas outside that I couldn't get to. Next time I will just ask.
In contrast to some others I found the service to be great, although I don't know why they have so many people standing around - one or two people could probably deliver the food and bus the tables, they don't need 4-5. At least they are employing some people haha.
I will check it out again to see how the shrimp po boys are, maybe try something else.
If you go in expecting Phil's you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for a different style maybe you will find something you like. I'd like to hear from the latter.
Frankie's uses a Cookshack smoker. One of the owners (Tony) gave me a tour prior to the opening and showed me the smoker. I have a much smaller version of their smoker and it takes some time and experimentation to zero in on the right temperature and the right type/mixture and quantity of wood.
Frankie, Tony and staff strike me as being very conscious of putting out the best product possible as they are always asking patrons for their feedback, so I look for their already good product to get even better as they learn to master their smoker. I have been there seven times or so since the opening and enjoy the ribs and pulled pork. To me sides are just noise, but I do like their beans and mac and cheese though the serving containers do make the portions look smaller than they really are.
I think those that encountered unsatisfactory service will find that it has improved dramatically since the first days of operation as technical and procedural bugs have been worked out. I would prefer to have my order taken at my table while dining in, but I have gotten used to ordering at the counter. The staff is attentive and checks in on the diners as if they were waiting on your table.
I agree with your assessment that fans of Phil’s may be initially disappointed with Frankie’s, but once they give it a try or two they will become Bull fans too.
The Cookshack smokers are electric. One of the problems with electric smokers is that they do not produce a smoke ring. (I have an electric smoker from Masterbuilt and have the same problem.) The lack of a smoke ring from electric smokers is likely due to the limited amount of NOx (nitric oxide) produced by such smokers compared to other types of smokers. The NOx chemically reacts with myoglobin (an oxygen carrying protein in muscle) to create the reddish color.
However, although it provides great bbq aesthetics, the smoke ring has little to do with the genuine smoke flavor of the meat.
I too agree with sabotage. I thought the best thing about the restaurant was the water basin in the front of the restaurant where you can wash your face and hands afterwards and not have to go into the restroom. We ordered the Sampler and both the beef and pork ribs WERE MUSHY. The Mac and Cheese was dried out and it seemed the chicken was undercooked. I thought the best part of the meal was the Cajun Fries. I asked for some ranch salad dressing to dip the fries in (like I do at Islands) and the dressing was almost like cream cheese. What's up with that? The atmosphere was OK and yes, the hats were dorky. All in all I would try them again in about 2 or 3 months when they are settled in to see if there is any change. If not, its off to Phil's for me!!