Diners used to the polished (and in my opinion, sterile) chain pancake houses may be put off by Franks' singular homey design. The pale yellow building with the lavender trim is an eye-catcher along Pima Street near Alvernon Way. The trellised front patio looks a might derelict and the counter stools seem to have been swiveling since the days of Prohibition. Family photographs (many featuring beloved pets) and sundry magazine clippings plaster the restaurant's interior walls. A large highway-type sign proclaims "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Another alerts diners to a hard and fast rule at Frank's, "No Sniveling." Still another reminds patrons of a recent restaurant-related controversy: "Our Customers Are Our Business -- Stop the Smoking Ban."
As of October 1, 1999, a city ordinance prohibited smokers from lighting up while dining out unless restaurants could seat them in an entirely enclosed space or could report over 60 percent of their business came from the sale of alcohol (thus eliminating bars from the scenario). Those familiar with Frank's will readily recall that smoking in the cramped space was de rigueur -- the perpetual gray haze hung over the crowd like a banner to tobacco bliss. Those days are gone, and with them, ironically, the fear that such a restriction on personal freedom would negatively impact business at Frank's.
"I hate to say it," our waitress confided, looking cautiously over her shoulder as she spoke, "but I think our business is actually better now that you can't smoke in here."
As much as people may have enjoyed smoking at Frank's, the real pleasure remains eating there. With food as consistent and solidly delicious as it is, folks will willingly suspend the urge to pollute their lungs for a few hours.
Breakfast consists of hearty egg and meat dishes, with a few pancakes, waffles and French toast variations. Omelets are as fancy as Frank's gets. The food may not be heart smart, but a meal at Frank's now and then definitely does the soul good. (However, Frank's does use canola oil in its cooking).
A platter of sausage and eggs (always cooked the way you like them, including specifications for runny, soft, medium or hard) is a hefty meal at Frank's. Two hockey-puck-sized sausage patties accompany two eggs cooked to order, along with hash browns or home fries and choice of toast, biscuit or fresh flour tortilla. Although meat and eggs may be the stars of a morning breakfast platter, Frank's potatoes threaten to steal the show. Homemade hash browns (an anomaly in the era of frozen convenience foods) are fried until crisp and golden, and the tender-crisp home fries are tossed with squares of vibrantly fresh green bell pepper and sweet sautéed onion. While many other restaurants may regard these side dishes as afterthoughts, Frank's prepares them with obvious time and care.
Frank's cinnamon rolls, recalling a sticky bun without the nuts, are another homey treat. Those favoring a thick sugary glaze and Texas-sized rolls could be disappointed, but I prefer the more modestly sized brown-sugar-and-cinnamon bun. It's a perfect complement to a scrambled egg and a cup of Frank's strong hot coffee, and it won't incite dietary guilt. Could a pastry possibly offer more?
In addition to the choice of fresh flour tortillas with your meal, Frank's features a very serviceable interpretation of huevos rancheros. A lightly fried corn tortilla is topped with two sunny-side up eggs and slathered with grated cheddar cheese and zesty salsa. Though not a complicated dish, it's often mishandled at other establishments. Frank's, however, never misses a beat.
The French toast platter is another small marvel, with perfectly crisp bacon and an egg cooked exactly as ordered. The toast's thickly sliced white bread is nicely puffed and browned, dusted with confectioner's sugar and served with dollops of butter and maple syrup. Nothing is more unappealing than soggy French toast, but Frank's product is a dish of golden, yeasty glory.
Most breakfasts run around $5, but if you're an early riser (i.e. before 9 a.m.) you can cash in on the $1.50 special, which includes two eggs, hash browns or home fries, biscuit, toast or flour tortilla.
While I've never been able to resist the lure of the all-day breakfast, Frank's gets kudos from other diners for a fine version of chicken-fried steak, real mashed potatoes and a hamburger and fries deal for $1.75. As Frank's closes at 2 p.m. daily, dinner is unfortunately not a possibility.
The waitresses at Frank's have garnered a reputation over the years as women who don't suffer fools gladly. While that might be true, in my experience they've never been anything but friendly, courteous and fast. The service is some of the most brisk in town, so if you happen to stop by when all the tables are full, patience will reward you. Undoubtedly, a table will be free very shortly.
A friend of mine once claimed that it didn't matter much where we met for breakfast because the meal was pretty much the same anywhere you went.
"It's almost impossible to mess up breakfast," she'd say.
That may be true for the multitudes of mediocre breakfast joints, but there are still a few places that stand out in this category. Frank's may not be fine dining, but when it comes to breakfast, it sails easily into the upper reaches of the truly elite.
Frank's Restaurant. 3843 E. Pima St. 881-2710. Open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. No alcohol. Cash or checks only. Menu items: $1.50 - $7.95.