There’s something about a good, old-fashioned steakhouse that builds enduring popularity. The old reliable Pat’s in Louisville (formerly Min’s), for example, started grilling its steaks and chops in 1958, and some of its clientele have been dining there regularly ever since.
Boasting almost as durable a record of longevity on the Sunny Side, the estimable Frank’s Steakhouse in Jeffersonville has been around for at least … well, let’s ask. “Uhhh … 30-something years,” guesstimated a longtime server. Close enough!
And now, more than a generation later, Frank’s has come to Kentucky. Taking over the East End quarters lately abandoned by the abrupt closing of Garrett’s (another popular casual American spot that grilled a few steaks in its day), Frank’s opened a Louisville outpost just off Hurstbourne Lane around Derby time.
This new branch of an old eatery fits into its renovated quarters like a baked potato into aluminum foil: Dark, heavy wood beams and roughly quarried blocks of limestone create an old-house atmosphere that seems just right for a steakhouse environment, and oversize historic Louisville-area photos add local nostalgia. (We dined under a wonderful picture of the Churchill Downs paddock back in the ’30s or ’40s, before they turned the lovable old pile into a landlocked equivalent of a gambling boat, with all the gentlemen wearing suits, white shirts and narrow ties, fedoras or straw boaters. Did people really dress up like that?)
The spacious interior — which seats 198, according to the fire marshal’s sign — is broken into several sections, some up a step or two. There’s a cozy bar and (for the moment) smoking section; an interior space with no windows is romantically dim; and most rooms benefit from windows and skylights to bring in plenty of illumination at lunchtime and on long summer evenings. The red-upholstered booths seem a bit cramped: Our party of four crammed into one and found it a bit like dashboard dining in an old VW Beetle. We requested a move to a table for four, which gave us plenty of space in comfortable wooden Windsor chairs.
If you liked the food and mood at Garrett’s, chances are you’ll like Frank’s, which shares a similar family-style, casual-upscale American fare, with a heavy focus on steaks and prime rib. A few chicken and fish dishes and pasta items offer recourse for those who desire lighter fare, but there’s not much here for vegetarians beyond pasta primavera, salads or a selection of sides.
Steaks come in a variety of cuts, most of them in two sizes, big and bigger, and the same is true of the prime rib. Pricing falls well short of your fancy downtown steakhouses, with steaks ranging in price from $14.99 (for an 8-ounce center cut rib eye) to $22.99 (for a 14-ounce New York strip). Prime rib is $14.99 (for a 10-ounce cut) or $19.99 (for a 14-ounce slab). “Smokehouse” options include ham or hickory-smoked baby back ribs ($12.99 for half of a rack, $16.99 for a full rack). The aforementioned chicken, fish and pasta dishes cover about a dozen selections from $8.99 (for pasta primavera or “Triple Crown” grilled chicken smothered with tomatoes and melted cheese) to $13.99 (for crab cakes Mornay or shrimp pasta sauced with creamy Parmesan). There’s also a selection of appetizers, soups, salads and sandwiches (Frank’s burger with fries is $8.99), and a shorter lunch menu (served 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday), with a dozen selections, from chicken salad on lettuce ($4.59) to Chicken Florentine ($8.99).
There’s full bar service, with a modest but passable wine list primarily distinguished by its reasonable pricing, with about two dozen wines by the bottle in the $20 to $30 range, almost all available by the glass in the $5 to $8 range.
We started with two appetizer dishes for the table, both in amply generous portions for sharing. Fried calamari ($8.99) were nicely fried, grease-free, admirably crispy but pale in color, as if they had been taken out of the fryer just a little early. I couldn’t help noticing that the squid was all rings, none of those frightening little tentacles. It came with chunky marinara sauce and standard-issue tartar sauce for dipping. The other appetizer, also fried, was a “flooming onion” ($5.99) — just like at the State Fair, an oversize sweet onion cut open and spread out like a giant lily, batter-dipped and fried whole. Again, it was competently fried, with lots of black pepper in the breading. It came with a pink, creamy dip called “tangy petal sauce,” which looked like rémoulade to me.
Dinners come with salads and one side. The salads were simple, not over-large, but well prepared — salad greens with chopped tomatoes, crispy croutons, finely diced hard-boiled egg and bits of crisp bacon. The special “smoky tomato” dressing was thick, creamy and pink, with a slight smoky flavor that went well with the bacon bits.
My wife and I shared a large center-cut rib eye ($20.99) and large prime rib ($19.99), thinking we’d enjoy a little of both and have leftovers for another dinner at home. Both portions delivered generous measure and looked good, too — the rib eye seared dark mahogany and crisscrossed with grill marks, the prime rib a good inch thick and juicy reddish-pink. A little bowl of jus tasted like it was made with a bouillon cube; a limp sprig of parsley was the only garnish on the plate. Both were served well past the requested medium-rare, closer to medium or even a little past, with just a hint of pink left at the centers. They were flavorful but had an unfortunate chewy texture. One guest’s broiled cod dinner ($11.99) was excellent, tender and fresh cod dressed with melted butter and a surprising amount of black pepper.
Coffee, both decaf and regular ($1.99), was strong, fresh and good. We split two desserts, both made in-house. Crème brulèe ($6.99) was sugary and not particularly inspiring, with the requisite thin caramelized top. A pecan brownie ($4.99) was fudgy, dense and gigantic, covered with crisp bits of pecan, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
Service was excellent throughout, professionally casual and properly unobtrusive. Compared to the city’s more upscale steakhouses, and considering that we inhaled wine, shared appetizers and desserts and coffee, the prices weren’t bad at all: Dinner came to $138 for four, plus a $30 tip, which comes out well under $100 for two.
9601 Shelbyville Road
Rating: 78 points
(Other location: 520 W. Seventh St., Jeffersonville, Ind., 812-283-3383)
What can (Hot) Brown do for you?
We’ve always thought of the Hot Brown as a work of art intended more for the taste buds than the eyes. Nevertheless, the folks at the Brown Hotel, where Louisville’s signature dish was invented back in the 1920s, have come up with an art contest for works that feature an image of the classic Mornay-smothered open-face turkey sandwich with bacon.
The contest is limited to “two-dimensional media” such as photography, painting, drawing and collage, which appears to rule out Hot Brown sculptures or Japanese body art.
All qualifying entries will be displayed in The Gallery at the Brown on the hotel’s first floor. The winner will be permitted to showcase and sell his original art at the gallery.
For information, contact Gallery at The Brown manager Christian Trabue at the hotel, 583-1234. Entries must be received by Aug. 1, and the display opens with a wine and cheese reception on Aug. 3 from 6-8 p.m.
Contact the writer at