Craving for American Comfort Food? Check Out the New Frank & Dean Café x Kitchen at Burgos Circle, BGCJune 22, 2015
Stumbling across Frank & Dean, which is tucked away in a small nook that’s partly hidden from the louder, more blatant eateries of Burgos Circle, may prove to be quite the kick in the head.
Dubbed as a “Café x Kitchen” after Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (both the stars to watch in their heyday), the atmosphere of Frank & Dean invites one to kick back and unwind—whether prior to heading out to work, or after a long day’s worth of running errands. Relatively small and on the more intimate side, sunlight peeks in from the glass windows, giving the place a cheery vibe; yet the hazier hues brought about by the interiors make it dim enough to warrant its being a coffee place, too. One is greeted with the rustic, industrial character of contemporary gastropubs: brick walls exist alongside wooden panels, minimalist lamps hang from the ceiling, and specials are written on a chalkboard for all to see. They sneak in a bit of rock n’ roll antiquity, too, with shelves occupied by quirky, vintage knick knacks (with a vinyl player to boot!) and a corkboard on which postcards of its namesake icons (amongst others of their day) are pinned in a notably sleek, tidy manner. In the midst of it all, one can smell the distinct aroma of coffee brewing in the background.
The opposing elements appear to clash on paper, but the transition is made seamless once the menu is considered. Its offerings that range from all-day breakfast items to classier takes on bar chow which, combined with its relaxed ambience, make it far too easy to overextend one’s stay. Owned by the same folks behind watering hole Pablo’s, Frank & Dean could be seen as Pablo’s more streamlined, metropolitan cousin from Brooklyn: classy without trying, always composed, and up for a casual chat. “We wanted to create a vibe nga that you could hang out here and work here,” says owner Miguel Escueta. True enough, high tables are placed along the periphery, conducive for productivity (namely, for propping up laptops). Lower yet longer tables at the center are suited for bringing along your own Rat Pack…er, group of friends.
Far from an attempt to divide its followers, however, fans of Pablo’s will be glad to know that the every bit of food here is comforting and never pretentious, thus blurring the lines between indulgence and sophistication. Glancing at the menu, nothing sounds too offensive or unfamiliar. One may be tempted to dismiss it as just another hipster attempt at American-style comfort food, especially given its location. Setting the restaurant apart, however, is their decision to zone in and specialize on three items specifically: pizza, chicken, and coffee. “We wanted to play around with the idea that Pinoys love [them],” says Miguel. “We really want to be known for those three things.”
Their Southern-style Fried Chicken, while dry in some areas, boasts of an extremely crunchy breading that’s downright tasty, with or without the gravy. One has the option of taking it with rice, doughnuts, Mac n’ Cheese, or waffles—and their rendition stands out, with a perfectly crisp exterior and a light, fluffy interior just sweet enough to balance out the savory meat. Pouring maple syrup on top simply takes the sweet-and-salty combination to the next level, at your own discretion. If you’d like to get technical about it, the viscosity helps bind the individual components together, and then there’s the unbeatable bonus of enhancing the caramelized crispiness of the waffle edges (the best part, really). But over-analyzing might beat the purpose of its identity as soul food, which it essentially is.
Allow me to rave about their pizza: loosely akin to a New York-style slice, the toppings are contained in a soft crust with a crisp bottom. The caveat, however, is that it must be consumed immediately upon serving, for the best ratio of chew and crackle (sans the heaviness that may naturally come as it cools). The pie is sliced into four with special instructions to #HoldandFold each quarter. The hashtag suggestion might sound gimmicky, but eating this way is, in fact, quite practical: having the crust on both sides works as a protective barrier—similar to bookends, if you will—that add structure and integrity, preventing the molten-hot cheese from dripping all over your plate (and instead, straight into your mouth).
Once the bread and the meat are gone, though, how would one reconcile the disparity between a brimming stomach and an empty soul? The answer lies in the final piece of the trio: their coffee. Although the current selection is similarly small, one can be assured of a well-made cup each and every time. Made from Arabica beans, the coffee is sourced from specialty coffee shop Yardstick. I imagine many a busy afternoon fueled, perhaps accompanied by smooth, swinging blasts of trumpets playing. “How do you like your eggs in the morning?”—do take note that Frank & Dean opens at 11 a.m. daily—“I like mine with a kiss.” Yet a cup of joe easily transitions to lazy afternoons and rainy days, alone or with your Huckleberry friend; the fruity aroma of freshly-brewed Arabica along with the sensation of heat on the lips (and Moon River on repeat, for good measure) does wonders to make such moments more tranquil.
It is a relief to know they are aware of their strengths, making ordering far less of a hassle for the indecisive (i.e., me). Still, there are other items sure to merit many more repeat visits. The cheekily-named One-Eyed Jack, for instance, is their take on a Croque Madame, with a shiny golden egg yolk waiting to be pierced open with a fork. The sandwich delivers on the winning combination of salty and sweet, thanks to the ham and the molten cheddar, slathered generously with lashings of maple syrup and buttery brioche. Those looking to share would be well to opt for their Sliders, which carry all the elements of a great cheeseburger in one (maybe two) bites, and come with portion of their signature Paprika Fries. And, although listed as a dessert, the chocolate-covered potato chips from Cheat Street have just enough chocolate painted on the surface for a sinfully sweet bite, yet manages to retain its identity as a munch-able, chomp-able, savory snack with a hearty ruffled crunch. There are also a number of cocktails and liquors on offer for evening get-togethers, best enjoyed at the al fresco area on the second floor. We do hear something rather peculiar takes place upstairs once the moon is up, and I managed to sneak in a glance of a few telephone booths rather curiously stationed within another room at the end. Hmm. (If anyone asks, though, you didn’t hear it from us.)
It seems ambitious to try and merge old and new, especially as food trends come and go. But as with other forms of art, classics remain exactly that insofar as they are treasured across the years, making an impact upon its audience (or consumers), and, arguably, become both essential and timeless. Frank & Dean does a great job of bridging the gap between eras through great food in a great setting. In the words of Mr. Sinatra himself: “I would like to be remembered as a man who had a wonderful time living life, a man who had good friends, fine family—and I don’t think I could ask for anything more than that, actually.” Ring-a-ding-ding to that!