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Frankly Speaking 

You know you're doing something right if you're a small Italian restaurant in a city known for world-class cuisine and have maintained regular customers over several decades, including many out of towners, and enough new diners to keep the business growing. The owners of Frank's Restaurant (933 Decatur St., 525-1602) do it right seven days a week.

The bountiful menu of the restaurant, which was opened in 1965 by Frank Gagliano Sr., is filled with traditional Italian and seafood favorites, such as Frank's Famous Italian Stuffed Artichoke, muffalettas, chicken Marsala, red beans and rice, pasta dishes, blackened catfish and po-boys ranging from roast beef to veal cutlet to Mediterranean veggies on Italian twist bread. There also are elegant dishes such as shrimp, crawfish or combination seafood Gagliano, in which a choice of delicacies is sauteed in butter with fresh basil, garlic, green onions and special secret seasonings before it is placed over angel hair pasta and topped with Romano cheese.

"We're known for our seafood and Italian food," says Frank Gagliano Jr., who with his three brothers and a sister took over the business from his father 23 years ago. "We're all culinary chefs, and there's always one or two of us here. We get a lot of locals -- people who have been coming for 15 to 20 years -- and also tourists who come back to town every year and eat with us. On Mardi Gras, especially, for 30-something years, we've seen the same faces. It makes you feel good."

It's also good for business. When it first opened near the French Market in the mid-60s, Frank's was a slight storefront deli serving muffalettas and po-boys to Vieux Carre residents, local business people, the courthouse crowd and seamen. After a decade as a sandwich shop, it expanded its menu to include sit-down Italian dinners and in the 1980s became known for its seafood creations. The restaurant now seats about 122 diners in a small downstairs dining room and a larger one upstairs as well as a balcony that overlooks busy Decatur Street. The dining spot also has a generous wine list and a well-stocked bar.

A couple of years ago, Frank's Restaurant also started selling bottled products made from its original recipes, including hot sauce, jalapeno sauce, garlic sauce and steak sauce as well as bottled Italian olive salad. The business also does overnight shipping of muffalettas and stuffed artichokes, much of it through its Web site. That enterprise also has proved successful. "It's doing very well," says Frank Jr. "We sell 250 to 300 jars of olive salad a week. A lot of it goes out of town."

For the Gagliano family, feeding people is in their blood, an avocation as well as a vocation. "When I'm off, I like to try new things," Frank Jr. says. "I like to cook for my wife." Other leisure time is spent with relatives, including his siblings and their families. "We're always together even when we're not at the restaurant. We get together two or three times a week. My mother still cooks for us."

For Frank Jr., much of the fun of the restaurant business is connecting with customers through good food and watching them fall in love with New Orleans cuisine. "We get people here from all over the world and they invite us to look them up if we're ever in their town," he says. "Sometimes we do that É and it's a lot of fun." Being in the French Quarter, Frank's also gets traffic from celebrities visiting the city, such as a recent dinner hour spent with actor Dan Aykroyd, who occasionally visits a friend who lives near the restaurant.

"When you grow up in (the restaurant business) as a youngster, you fall in love with what you do," he says. "My father started this business selling good food more than 30 years ago. We're trying to keep the tradition alive."


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click to enlarge Frank's Restaurant co-owner Frank Gagliano Jr. shows off Italian stuffed artichokes made with a recipe that has pleased regulars at the French Quarter restaurant for decades.
  • Frank's Restaurant co-owner Frank Gagliano Jr. shows off Italian stuffed artichokes made with a recipe that has pleased regulars at the French Quarter restaurant for decades.


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