Food has an atmospheric quality, an emotional component that inextricably links certain foods with attitudes, memories, or feelings. The combination of hot dogs and cold beers immediately elicits a feeling of youth, relaxation, and comfort. This duo conjures thoughts of summer parties, sporting events, and just being dressed down. Despite being, on the surface, casual fare, hot dogs also inspire some pretty serious opinions and local preferences.
Frank is a bit lounge, a bit casual eatery, and a bit laid-back hangout. This happening downtown spot nestles itself in the midst of several upscale eateries, and boldly hones its attention on elevating the art of hot-dog making with a whimsical menu featuring unexpected pairings, impressive artisan sausages, and ever-changing specials.
First off, a word of warning–Frank is a busy place, so it is quite possible that you will have to wait a bit before heading to your table. Reservations are not available, but you can use your wait wisely to sample Frank’s extensive beer menu (featuring several local craft brews) and handmade cocktails. For the truly adventurous, Frank even offers a bacon infused Maker’s Mark, which is subtle and restrained. Frank also makes a mean bloody Mary, called the Red-Headed Stranger, which arrives garnished with cheddar cheese, a peperoncini, a jalapeno stuffed olive, and a big piece of bacon. So tasty.
Frank’s menu includes a number of constants, as well as an extensive set of daily specials, so the offerings available may vary from visit to visit. Therefore, to get an array of Frank’s options, this review encompasses two visits–one, a very busy weekend night, and one a less crowded night in the middle of the week.
On one of our visits, a daily special featured house made chorizo, cheddar, and roasted green chiles over waffle fries. These were a hit at our table, with a tasty marriage of starchy, spicy, and sharp. We were digging up the scraps with forks long after the fries had disappeared.
On another visit, we sampled the cheese plate, which featured a sample of cheeses from local purveyor, Antonelli’s Cheese Shop. This impressive spread included three cheeses, mustard, rustic bread, and fruits. The sampling included a subtle, soft Winconsin blue (Billy Blue); a cave aged New Hampshire farmstead (Landaff); and a firm, 6-month aged Swiss (Diabolo). They even offer cards with detailed info about the cheeses upon request.
But, of course, the stars at Frank are the dogs. All of the sausages on the menu are either prepared in-house, or are custom made for Frank by local processors, Hudson Sausage Co.
One of our favorite dogs on both visits was the Jackalope, which features custom sausage of antelope, rabbit, and pork, paired with huckleberry compote, shredded applewood smoked cheddar, and a spicy sriracha aioli. This dog is savory, sweet, and spicy, with just a hint of gaminess. On one of our visits, a run on the usual sausage link required us to replace it with a pork and sage link. The compote overpowered this more subtle sausage, but when the Jackalope arrives as advertised, it is interesting and delicious.
A bit less successful was the Sporty Spice. This dog featured a spicy pork and carrot sausage, crawfish salad, and Bee Hive Squeaky Bee cheese curds. Although we were all huge crawfish fans, unfortunately, the crawfish overwhelmed the dog, resulting in a dog that lacked balance, and just was not an effective combination.
We found ourselves licking our fingers, however, when we sampled some of Frank’s takes on more standard dogs. The Chicago Dog, for instance, literally had us asking for more. Frank’s spin on this classic featured a Vienna beef dog on a super-soft poppy seed bun, which was loaded with pickles, tomato slices, onion, day-glo relish, and a smattering of sport peppers. The dog was finished off with celery salt and mustard. This dog was, quite simply, delicious. We could not get enough.
Equal raves came for the Frank Chili Cheese Dog. There is nothing boring about this classic option. Frank’s version features a dark, rich chili with a hint of heat resting on a Vienna beef dog and finished off with cheddar cheese. Our servers informed us that the kitchen is constantly tweaking the chili recipe, but hopefully, it won’t change too much in the future because on both of our visits, the Frank Chili Cheese Dog elevated this underrated comfort food to a truly delicious, sophisticated option.
The comments about the chili being a constant work-in-progress perhaps underscores the key to what makes Frank such an interesting spot to keep you coming back. The extensive specials and ongoing tinkering underscore the experimentation, enthusiasm, and creativity at Frank. Football enthusiasts will love the weekly special dogs inspired by key NFL match-ups of the week.
Although one might not expect a place specializing in hot dogs to have much to offer those with diet restrictions, Frank’s menu offers a surprising range of options for vegetarians, vegans, and those with gluten restrictions. For instance, vegan dogs and vegetarian chili can be substituted on any dog, frito pie, or sausage item on the menu. The daily specials also routinely include meat-free options. Frank also offers gluten-free buns, which can be substituted on any dog on the menu.
The biggest blip in the Frank experience on our two visits came from the bar. On one visit, one guest in our party ordered two beers that were sold out before finally landing on one that was available. On both visits we experienced extremely long waits for bar beverages. This was particularly noticeable when we ordered at the bar while waiting for our table. We and other patrons waited a surprisingly long time before being acknowledged by the bartenders, despite a pretty small crowd at the bar. Once we ordered, the wait for drinks was again much longer than we expected. Several parties were grumbling about the wait at the bar, which seemed to be a direct result of understaffing in this area.
The remainder of the service at Frank, however, was great on both visits. Servers and hostesses alike were friendly, attentive, and had great senses of humor. The wait staff was impressively knowledgeable about both food and beverage offerings.
Although Frank has a few consistency and wait-time problems, overall, it is a welcome addition to the downtown landscape. Frank is the kind of spot that makes you overlook little flubs here and there. The atmosphere, menu, and staff are welcoming and inspire a relaxing, fun vibe that offer seriously crafted artisan fare without even an air of pretension. Frank is friendly for carnivores, vegans, children, or late-night partiers. Frank takes its food seriously, but maintains an air of whimsy and experimentation that makes this place so much more than your standard hot-dog spot.