Yank’s Franks (Wells, ME) is situated on Route 1, amidst a jumble of antique shops and campgrounds (if you are using Google Maps for directions, its best to enter “1738 Post Rd, Wells, ME”). If you get lost, just look for the brightly-colored picnic tables or the large hot-dog shaped logo that sits atop the building, pretty much ensuring that it won’t be mistaken for any other area business.
Yank’s Franks is owned and operated by George and Janice Yankowski, a married couple who—according to their web site—are in their “third careers.” Pay a visit to Yank’s on any given day (they are open daily from 11am until around 3pm) and you’re likely to encounter Janice at the cash register, where she makes customers feel at home and takes orders. Meanwhile, George covers the back, deftly working the grill and fryers. Its worth mentioning that, addition to being true frankfurter-philes, George and Janice also happen to be two of the warmest, most welcoming people I’ve had the privilege of meeting in my time in Maine.
On my most recent visit, I tried a couple of dishes. First up was the flagship hot dog, the Yank’s Frank. It may be tempting to compare it to a Chicago-style hot dog, but there are a number of subtle differences. First, while the Chicago dog is served on a poppy seed bun, the Yank’s Frank comes served in a buttered, grilled New England roll. The Yank’s Frankalso uses a more traditional sweet relish instead of the bright green “radioactive” relish featured on Chicago style dogs, and it nixes the sport peppers altogether. You also have the option of having your frank grilled or steamed (I recommend grilled).
I’ll admit to being a bit of a purist when it comes to Chicago-style hot dogs, but the Yank’s Frank really works for me. The buttered New England-style bun is a great twist on the poppy seed classic, and—now that I’ve lived in Maine for five years—I suppose I couldn’t imagine eating a hot dog in New England any other way. The bright red tomato, pickle and onions (with a sprinkle of celery salt) not only make the hot dog look like a work of art, they work in perfect harmony to inject the hot dog with a crisp, fresh flavor.
George and Janice source their hot dogs from Hummel Bros., which is well-known for its quality and high standards. The Connecticut-based company does not distribute its hot dogs to Maine, so getting them to Wells requires a bit of maneuvering on the Yankowskis’ part. The extra effort speaks to the emphasis on quality ingredients at Yank’s Franks. (Another testament to their passion for hot dogs is the frequently updated Yank’s Franks Blog. It is part self-promotion—as any good business blog should be—but it also documents how they built their business, profiles other local dining establishments, details their “test kitchen” experiments and even documents a hot dog-centric cross-country adventure that the couple took last year.)
Grilled to perfection, the beef-and-pork hot dogs served at Yank’s Franks have a pleasant flavor that stands up on its own, but which is also mild enough to work with other ingredients and toppings. Made with natural casings, the franks have just the right amount of “snap” to them to satisfy fans of the New York style hot dog. Customers can choose from a handful of specialty hot dogs—in addition to the Yank’s Frank, there is the Angry Dog with hot sauce, the Chili Dog (chili, spicy mustard and onions) and the Wells Beach Dog (bacon, sauerkraut, spicy mustard and sauteed onions)—or build their own.
The Yank’s Franks menu is not all hot dogs, of course. Hamburgers, french fries, onion rings and chicken tenders and chili are also offered (as is a variety of cold drinks). But the real gem here is the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, which was added to the menu earlier this year. Served on a soft potato bun, a heaping mound of pulled pork (prepared on site) is topped with DennyMike’s barbecue sauce. Customers have their choice of two sauces: hot and spicy or sweet mesquite. I think George might have been trying to steer me toward the former, but I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to the hot and spicy stuff, so I opted for the sweet mesquite sauce. That said, I did defer to his judgment when he suggested adding some onions to my sandwich (pickles and jalapenos are also available).
I tend to be a little wary of ordering barbecue dishes from establishments that aren’t primarily focused on barbecue. But I was emboldened by the fact that DennyMike himself had trained George and Janice on his pulled pork preparation technique.
Before digging into my sandwich, I disassembled it and sampled some of the pork from the center, where it hadn’t come into much contact with the sauce. The meat was delicious, moist and impossibly tender. It struck me as being the type of perfectly prepared barbecue that you could eat an entire plate of, all on its own without the benefit of sauce, condiments or side items.
The meat was no less delicious when I re-assembled the sandwich and enjoyed it with the other ingredients. The sweet mesquite sauce adds just the right amount of zip, without overpowering the flavor of the meat. Also remarkable were the crisp onions. I noticed that George put the onions on top of the bottom layer of sauce but below the pulled pork itself, which had the effect of allowing the meat to better stand out on its own. I’ve heard before about how the vertical placement of ingredients in a sandwich can have a dramatic effect on the overall flavor, but I always thought it was a lot of hooey. I stand corrected. As for the potato bun, it held together well and was just the right size. (My photograph of the constructed sandwich makes the top part of the bun look a bit larger than it is due to the angle from which I took the photo.)
Not only is the pulled pork sandwich a welcome addition to the Yank’s Franks menu, it serves to further elevate the rapidly improving Southern Maine barbecue scene.
Yank’s Franks is a little bit of a haul from Portland (it is about 35 miles away), but definitely worth the trip. When you go, my advice is to head down to Wells with enough room in your belly to try at least one of the signature hot dogs, as well as the pulled pork sandwich (and maybe some fries and a drink too). Sit outside at one of the picnic tables and enjoy your meal along with the ocean breeze, the warm sun and the friendly service provided by George and Janice.