Phillyana has been almost literally under wraps for months. Passing by on my regular walks down Jefferson Street, I tried to peer around ad hoc newspaper window coverage that kept whatever magic trick was underway from plain view. Since March, Phillyana owner Ransey Bowen has been casually welcoming diners in for a soft-opening preview of her stunning remodel of the former Frankie’s Burgers space at 427 Jefferson St., next to Pho Tastic in Downtown Lafayette.
Look, we all loved Frankie’s for what it was, but Bowen and her father have completely re-imagined what the slapdash tikki bar could be. It’s cliché, but witness this for yourself and you’ll forget what Frankie’s looked like.
What was left of Frankie’s by the time Bowen took over the lease had long been gutted, leaving a blank canvas for her to work with. The results are impressively updated and charming, up the aesthetic standards of other all-ages dining and service establishments that have taken hold in Downtown. It’s not lost on Bowen that she’s part and parcel of a nascently colorful and well-manicured revitalization of Downtown as a family-appropriate entertainment and shopping district.
“I just feel like Downtown, we have a great community down here,” Bowen tells ABiz. “I never came, because I thought it was just bars. I want people to know that there’s so much more down here. It’s so cute. I love it.” Phillyana’s interior dining room rides a line between new-South pub chic and verdant, wooden charm. In what turned out to be an unofficial tour of the joint last weekend, Bowen showed a few diners the run of the facility’s Pinterest-farmed ideas like lamp shades made of world-traveled license plates and service aprons cut from old plaid and gingham button-ups.
She’s currently in the process of turning the old Frankie’s patio/grotto into a legit venue for open mic nights and blues reviews. That back patio was always Frankie’s hidden gem — the sort of open air slice of cloistered nirvana that you find in spades in Austin and on the West Coast. With proper programming and investment, Phillyana’s could see Frankie’s dream turn into a family-friendly paradise.
By all accounts, the cheesesteaks are legit. I scoured some posts on her Facebook page — Phillyana’s sole media presence at this point — and found several purported Philadelphians giving her their imprimatur. Much of that has to do with her kitchen staff’s expert deployment of “wiz” — liquid melted cheese, not to be confused with “cheese whiz” or that weird canned foam cheese — and that she elected to source genuine Amoroso rolls for her buns.
As I’ve stated time and time again, the key to a great sandwich is the right bread. Put a cheesesteak on anything other than Amoroso, and you’re just eating a steak sandwich with gooey cheese. The other key is that the sandwich be made with love. Bowen loves cheesesteaks, a habit she picked up on corporate sales trips to Philadelphia.
“I love them. I just love them. There were none in town. I knew we could spice them up a little bit, and people would love it. I mean boudin patties, how could that go wrong?” Bowen says.
Bowen’s menu has yet to be posted online, though the rundown is fairly straightforward. She features the titular Phillyana, a dyed-in-the-wiz cheesesteak, and a host of Amoroso-hosted variations featuring cochon de lait-style pork, teriyaki steak, cracklin dustings, boudin patties and plenty of that cheese wiz.
If you’re not feeling the cheesesteak game, you can always settle in with a pile of Bootylicious Fries — so-named by Bowen and her spunky daughter/co-conspirator Reese — with pulled Boston butt, Swamp Fries with shrimp étouffée and Phillyana fries with plenty of wiz. Most items on her menu seem to have the wiz on it. Which, honestly, I’m not complaining about. I get the feeling you won’t either.
Phillyana has tested the market via a soft opening since March 15, but will open officially April 1. For more info, visit Phillyana’s Facebook page.