It’s been six months now since Frankie & Johnny’s Restaurant (321 Arabella St., 504-243-1234; frankieandjohnnys.net) reopened, and still you can spot the people coming back in for the first time. They’re the ones giving this classic old backstreet seafood joint the closest examination, with something more like proprietary concern than mere curiosity. It comes when people feel a personal connection to a particular restaurant, and I have to count myself in that number.
I first ate at Frankie & Johnny’s 15 years ago this month. It was during a visit to New Orleans, not long before I moved to the city. A friend brought me along for a trip up Tchoupitoulas Street from my downtown hotel, through a fog of termites and the echo of river sounds. He showed me how to peel crawfish here and reassured me that the big crab leg did indeed belong in my gumbo bowl. He told me how much I’d enjoy living in New Orleans, and the table before us held very tangible evidence to back him up.
Later, as I settled into my adopted city, Frankie & Johnny’s was a place to bring out-of-town guests. When friends moved away, it was where we gathered for send-offs.
You don’t quit a restaurant like that the first time the food lets you down, or when you notice it’s looking kind of grubby. Still, enough of that was overlooked for too long, and eventually Frankie & Johnny’s had gone beyond the pale. I stopped visiting or recommending it. When it closed early in 2013, the news came more as a pity than a shock.
But new operators soon took over and in November reopened the restaurant with a gleaming renovation and a management team well attuned to the balance of restoring its prospects and maintaining its character.
Not everything is the same. But the fried pepper rings remain essential, and the spicy Cajun salad dressing still makes a great a dip for the fried chicken, another Frankie & Johnny’s favorite. I like the new patio seating up front and the new oyster bar in the corner. Meanwhile, the vastly improved beer selection shows how even the classic flavors of boiled seafood are lifted by the rising tide of craft beer. As long as we’re toasting fond memories, we might as well have something good in the glass.
Frankie & Johnny’s serves lunch and dinner daily.
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.