Feb 20, 2023

Frankie and Johnny’s – a true find in New Orleans’ West Riverside neighborhood

I love exploring New Orleans’ various neighborhoods.  Each one has something unique to offer, which is why Punky and I try to get a little more familiar with a different one on each trip we take to NOLA. 

I am also passionate about po-boys, which are perhaps the definitive New Orleans sandwich (sorry, muffuletta).  So, we also look for a new po-boy shop (or at least a menu with po-boys prominently featured) on each trip to the Big Easy. 

When you put these two interests together, it’s easy to understand what made our discovery of Frankie and Johnny’s in the city’s West Riverside neighborhood such a great find. 

Finding Frankie and Johnny’s requires a little effort … and maybe a little luck … to those unfamiliar with the layout of the city.  We came across it while taking a driving tour of Tchoupitoluas Street from the Garden District toward Audubon Park.  The neighborhoods along this drive have a charming middle-class, blue collar feel, with warehouses all along the riverside and primarily small homes and residential buildings the farther you get from the Mississippi.  More and more, small businesses are being added to the mix along Tchoupitoulas, including retail shops and eateries.

Frankie and Johnny’s, however, has been a neighborhood fixture for so long that it seemingly blends right into its surroundings.  If I hadn’t noticed the Miller High Life sign above the porch as I glanced down Arabella Street, we might never have stopped to check it out.  And that would have been a major lost opportunity.    

But we did stop, as the combination of outside seating and the scents of grilled and boiling seafood lured us in.  We were fortunate to capture the last available table on the front porch just as an afternoon rain shower let loose.  

Sure enough, the menu showed Frankie and Johnny’s numerous po-boy offerings, the largest section on the menu, as well as a nice variety of appetizers (pro tip:  try the fried pepper rings) and dinner platters.  It was the quintessential New Orleans neighborhood restaurant menu. 

Two things stood out to me about the drink side of the menu – a more extensive selection of draft beers and wines than I anticipated and the low price point on so many items.  Abita Amber pints for $4.50 when it’s at least $6 or $7 at “fancier” restaurants?

OK, they’ve since raised the price to $5, but still, yes please!  And it just seemed like the perfect thirst quencher for watching the sun break through the clouds while waiting for our food to arrive …  

… as well as the ideal beverage to wash down a few chargrilled oysters.  Again, they smelled so good when we arrived that we could not resist ordering them.  And Frankie and Johnny’s were on par with some of the best-known oyster bars in New Orleans.   Plus, they provided plenty of garlic bread for sopping up the juices remaining in each shell. 

So, the oysters were a big hit, but the po-boys were loved just as much by everyone, including the Kiddo.  For starters, check out the quality of the bread.  It has that perfect thin flakiness on the outside and just the right amount of chew when you bit into it.    

I paired a half shrimp po-boy with a cup of seafood gumbo.  The fried shrimp were spot-on with just the right amount of crispy, lightly seasoned coating.  It came dressed the way a po-boy is meant to be -- with just enough pickles, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise to complement rather than overwhelm the main ingredient. 

The gumbo arrived overflowing from its cup, so I certainly couldn’t complain about portion size. And I don’t even have to describe how good the gumbo was … just look at how dark the roux is, and you can tell. 

Punky ordered the full-sized catfish po-boy, and it was reportedly also on point.  That’s a hearty crispy catfish filet they’re putting in there, too. 

But the best po-boy of the bunch (and I tasted all three we ordered) turned out to be the Kiddo’s meatball po-boy, as seen from behind the picture of the chargrilled oysters.  Frankly, Punky and I were a little bit jealous. 

For a sandwich, the mere size of these meatballs was enormous.  Then, they were smashed down into the French loaf.  A zesty marinara sauce held the po-boy together and paired wonderfully with the bread absorbing every drop.  Kiddo also had the foresight to order it dressed, and the additional crunch the toppings provided worked surprisingly well with the meatballs and the sauce.  Judging from the overall taste of the meatball po-boy, I would trust Frankie and Johnny’s to serve up a fine representation of any Italian dish, and they feature a few classics on their menu.       

Discovering a place like Frankie and Johnny’s is one of the reasons why I never tire of going to New Orleans.  The food and drinks were delicious, and the neighborhood vibe was warm and friendly.  If you’re visiting the Big Easy and want to go where the locals go, just follow Tchoupitoulas or Magazine Street from downtown for approximately five miles all the way to Arabella Street for a taste of Frankie and Johnny’s.  I think you’ll find it worth the trip.

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