At 7 p.m. on a recent Friday evening, one-quarter of the new Restaurant Row location of legendary steakhouse Frankie & Johnnie’s, which was recently forced to vacate its home of 90 years, was packed. The main dining area, located in the back third of the space that was previously the longtime home of B. Smith’s, was so crammed with diners that servers had trouble navigating the crowd and guests couldn’t push their chair back without bumping into someone else. The rest of the soaring space, however, which includes a large bar and a mezzanine section, was completely empty, with not a soul to be seen except for the hostess. Perhaps the owners don’t want to force the staff to climb stairs or walk to the front of the restaurant? Whatever the reason, it made for an awkward and slightly bizarre dining experience, which is a shame because the restaurant is serving some of the finest steaks you’ll find in Times Square.
Frankie and Johnnie’s original dining room was narrow and cramped in the most charming way possible, and if the owners were looking to replicate that experience there are plenty of comparable spaces that the restaurant could have moved into, preserving some of the old-school appeal. There’s just something off about the new space; perhaps it’s the feeling that you’re dining in a hotel atrium, or the complete absence of any music, or the giant metal staircase and awkwardly-positioned wine refrigerator that dominate the dining room, or the feeling that you’re crammed into a small pen inside a very large room, or the fact that many seats offer a direct line of sight into a single-person restroom. A steakhouse should feel, at least in some way, like a steakhouse, and sadly the new Frankie & Johnnie’s doesn’t feel in the least like the kind of place where you’ll be put in the mood to sit back and spend $99 on a porterhouse for two, the same price as at Peter Luger.
But a steakhouse should be judged by the quality of its steaks, and it thankfully still excels in that department. Our bone-in ribeye and New York strip had a perfect deep-brown crust and were supremely marbled and juicy. They were cooked to a perfect medium-rare. Service was also friendly and knowledgeable, and our server asked if we’d like our steaks sliced tableside, a nice touch that we politely declined.
A great steak is a great steak, and thankfully you can still find one at Frankie and Johnnie’s. But if it’s really going to succeed in its new home, the owners need to give some serious thought about how to optimize the huge and daunting space that they’ve taken over.