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Frankie & Johnny’s

Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 321 Arabella St. 504-243-1234. Map.
Very Casual.
AE DC DS MC V
Website

ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
If a Las Vegas casino and a New Orleans neighborhood eatery could somehow merge into a hybrid, it would come out looking a lot like Frankie and Johnny’s. Smiling, happy people would dominate the population. Neon beer signs would flash inside and out. In the middle of the place would be (in fact it’s there now) a single gambling single device: a claw machine with much better prizes than I remember from when I was a kid.

This imaginary restaurant would be in the style of Creole Funky. People who weren’t eating big piles of boiled seafood would munch on roast beef poor boys or oyster loaves. Or plates of red beans and the like.

WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
F&J’s, even in its tough times, was a landmark for people with a taste for casual New Orleans dining, particularly those with a taste for boiled crawfish and other boiled seafood. Its oyster bar has become one of the best around, turning out memorable bivalves whether the were ice cold or grilled to bubbling. The final moment in its renaissance was the recent renovations and the addition of outdoor tables and a big parking lot.

WHAT’S GOOD
There is nothing in the canon of basic local neighborhood cookery that isn’t on the menu here. The seafood department is especially strong, and the reputation for boiled seafood is true. My most recent dinners included some really fine fish specials. And you can’t talk about F&J’s without using the word “family.” That refers both to the menu and the way the servers kid around and the spaghetti and meatballs, mac and cheese, and chicken tenders.

BACKSTORY
Brothers-in-law Johnny Morreale and Frank Gaudin saw a major business opportunity in the vicinty. The year was 1942, in the middle of World War II. And the riverfront a few blocks away were lines with ships and docks filled with heavy industry construction and ships heading out into the rest of the world. All of this was in progress of the most urgent kind. All those workers had to eat, and a cafe that served familiar home cooking in generous portions was likely to do well.

Frankie & Johnny’s did indeed thrive. After the war, neighborhoods like this were growing and calling for local cafes on nearly every corner. Frankie & Johnny’s fit the category perfectly, and for years afterwards it was near the top of most lists of neighborhood joints. Then came two fires, and some mistaken management over the last couple of decades. In stepped Chef David McCelvey, who bought Franky & Johnnie’s some two years ago. He had been the get-it-done guy for Emerile Lagasse’s restaurants around the country. Locally, he created the menu at NOLA and rejiggered the style of Delmonico brilliantly. But he was up for doing something on his own, and here he at F&J’s.

DINING ROOM
The restaurant is subdivided into several rooms. A half-dozen tables outside always seem to be be busy. The room with the bar seems to be less noisy than the room behind it. The room in the far rear seems to be where all the boiled seafood is.
BEST DISHES
Starters
»Stuffed artichoke
Cajun balls
»Crab and artichoke dip
Seafood gumbo
Chicken & andouille gumbo

Entrees  
Fried oyster, shrimp, catfish poor boys or platters
»Poor boys: roast beef, hot or smoked sausage
Spaghetti and meatballs
Chicken parmesan
Boiled shrimp
»Raw oysters on the half-shell
»Chargrilled oysters
»Fried chicken
Hamburger steak, with grilled onions
Desserts
White chocolate bread pudding
Peanut butter pie

FOR BEST RESULTS
The nature of the menu lends itself to getting and splitting a bunch of items at the beginning, even though the best cooking here involve the dishes that take longest to cook. Raw oysters are exceptionally excellent.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
The menu always seems too short, but I wind up eating too much every time I turn up at F&J’s.

FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.

  • Dining Environment +1
  • Consistency +1
  • Service+1
  • Value +2
  • Attitude +1
  • Wine & Bar +1
  • Hipness +1
  • Local Color +3

 

SPECIAL ATTRIBUTES

  • Courtyard or deck dining
  • Open Sunday lunch and dinner
  • Open Monday lunch and dinner
  • Open all afternoon
  • Oyster bar
  • Good for children
  • Easy, nearby parking
  • No reservations

 

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