After a half-year of renovation after the Uptown seafood restaurant changed ownership, Frankie and Johnny's is doing what it always did, but more consistently.
When Frankie and Johnny’s closed in February 2013, it was sad more because the Uptown restaurant was becoming another “ain’t dere no more” establishment than because its food was so special. I’d always found its kitchen erratic, so I could get good fried seafood one night and sad shrimp and oysters that had fried for too long in old, dirty oil the next. Still, Frankie and Johnny’s was one of those places where the experience was the thing. You were stepping back in time when you walked through the doors - a time when light was the enemy and people still played the Skill Crane machine near the bar - and locals and tourists alike would overlook a lot to take that trip.
Frankie and Johnny’s reopened under new ownership the day after Thanksgiving last year, and the renovations addressed cleanliness and the cave-like nature of the restaurant. The acoustic tile drop ceiling is gone in favor of exposed beams (painted a dark brown, so it’s still a little dark despite the whiter walls), and the owners found windows that had been covered by the old drywall. The Skill Crane game is gone in favor of additional seating at the front of the restaurant, which makes Frankie and Johnny’s a little more welcoming.
So far, its kitchen has been consistent and effective delivering the old school seafood the way you remember it. The oysters on the fried oyster plate were properly juicy inside their crusty exteriors, and they were served on the sopping slice of white bread that delivers one final heart punch to those at war with their bodies. The shrimp po-boy was nicely proportioned, not overstuffed. It didn’t fall apart, and you got a balanced bite of bread, shrimp, mayo, pickle, tomato and hot sauce. Neither plate was special in the way that Charlie’s Seafood was under Frank Brigtsen’s oversight, and if time isn’t an issue, I’ll go out to Seither’s in Harahan, but Frankie and Johnny’s is what it’s supposed to be - a neighborhood joint - and you still get your salad dressing and tartar sauce in plastic condiment cups.
The new owners have pared down the menu a little, keeping the spaghetti and meatballs but letting go the fried chicken that, like the other fried food, was hit and miss in the past. I haven’t tried the stuffed artichoke yet, but the pepper rings seemed indifferently cut - some thin, some a third of an inch wide - and they looked disturbingly dark. Fortunately, that darkness didn’t affect the flavor, which was pleasantly what I remembered.
When Charlie’s Steak House returned under new ownership after Hurricane Katrina, it was successful as a neighborhood steakhouse, but food was only part of Charlie’s appeal, and without Miss Dottye, it’s a different experience. The new Frankie and Johnny’s delivers what the old Frankie and Johnny’s did, but more consistently and in a cleaner way.