By Denise Mattia
For seven years a speakeasy on West 45th Street was frequented by mobsters before becoming a legitimate restaurant after prohibition was repealed. Still, the pictures of the nefarious, the less than nefarious and the very talented stage celebrities hung on the walls of the 90-year old, five-story “joint.” Frankie and Johnnie the owners, themselves waiters from Philadelphia, had opened the place, which thrived until one evening, or so the story goes, when Frankie fled with the take, leaving Johnnie to persevere and to pass the establishment down to his family. In 1985 an F & J’s waiter Peter Chimos bought the restaurant and carried on the steakhouse tradition. A wrecking ball, which demolishes so much of old New York, razed West 45th Street and brought the area into the 21st century. Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouse relocated to 320 West 46th Street.
Gone are the peepholes to admit hopefuls trying to gain admittance. The only stairs to climb are the ones leading to a private room and balcony for diners, and there’s double the original seating area. We were a large group that evening and fit easily into the sizable niche in front of the windows.
The stunning mahogany wood bar is topped with black granite. The padded leather-backed bar stools are comfortable for friends meeting for a drink or for eating a meal. The menu (save the prices) hasn’t changed much since its inception in 1926, except that patrons can now order veal parmesan, a steak for two ($105) or three ($142). There aren’t too many restaurants that still serve an old NY favorite: calves liver, sautéed with bacon and onions ($29).
The Theatre Menu ($55 pp) offers choices of flavorful corn bisque or the chef’s own creation of the day. The F & J’s classic salad consists of coarsely chopped onions, peppers, mushrooms and cucumbers in a well-balanced vinaigrette dressing.
In addition to broiled salmon served in a garlic yogurt sauce with vegetables and potatoes, there are choices of baked cheese tortellini and a tender French chicken breast with mushroom sauce.
The F & J’s steak signa-tures include a 10-ounce NY Strip or an 8-ounce filet mignon with a brandy peppercorn sauce. F & J’s is known for their potatoes. The number of preparations are staggering. (I stopped counting with the cottage fries, potato pancakes and French fries on the table, knowing there were more being brought to the table.) The fries were crisp and not oily.
The F & J’s signature creamed spinach had a perfect consistency and was tasty. Wines on the menu are from California. A half bottle of Mionetto Prosecco DOC Treviso was dry, crisp and delicious.
Other starters included shrimp scampi laced with garlic and, although the chef was a little heavy on the soy, the ginger, sesame and avocado relish added flavor to the tuna tartare. Barry Frommer, the maître d’ oversees the tables and ensures excellent service, however, the dishes were only warm rather than piping hot, but it won’t take the chef long to be at home in his new kitchen. Peter and Gus launched the relocated restaurant in January 2016. Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse can look forward to another 90 years of pleasing both loyal followers and new customers.
Frankie & Johnnie’s Steakhouse is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Reservations can be made on their website, on Open Table and by calling 212-997-9494.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.