written by CHRISTINE KIRK | photography courtesy of ENRIQUE SAMSON

INSPIRED BY THE CLASSY RESTAURANTS LIKE THE BROWN DERBY that once tempted Hollywood stars and dignitaries, Frankie’s The Steakhouse is Duluth’s newest addition to fine dining. Crowning the third floor of the private 1818 Club on Sugarloaf Parkway, Frankie’s boasts upscale steakhouse fare with an old-world Italian twist. Their fedora silhouette emblem gives a nod to the hip and swanky style of the famed Rat Pack; a style they’re seeking to emulate via ambience and classy service. 

“What we’re trying to do here is really special. Not many places do what we do, and we do it every day. You can’t take a day off,” said Jonathon Cohen, general manager. He’s passionate about his staff and the Frankie’s vision, and it shows. “I’ve got a great staff. I would put them up against anybody in the city, hands down.”

Frankie’s is the brainchild of the Norsan Group, known for its notable Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano (across the street from Frankie’s), the revered Pampas Steakhouse (Old Milton Parkway, Johns Creek) and its successful chain of Frontera Tex-Mex restaurants.

“I want to be the No. 1 steakhouse in the Southeast,” Cohen stated, not bashful about his personal goals for Frankie’s. Certainly a lofty aspiration, I think, but what stands out about Cohen is his focus on service. There’s no question, in his mind, that the food is excellent and the chef is skilled. But he’s insistent that the dining experience is equally important. To achieve their goals, Frankie’s takes steps to stay innovative and ahead of the competition.

“I’ll look at reviews from other restaurants, other cities. I’ll look up Miami, I’ll look up Boston, where I’m from. I’ll look up San Jose, San Francisco, Las Vegas. What are other restaurants doing right, what are they doing wrong?” Cohen explained.

What they’re doing at Frankie’s includes a classic white linen dining room accented with unique details which exhibit their top-tier standard of service. Each table is outfitted with Riedel crystal glassware, and there are walls of wine that give you incentive to use them. Near my table, a shelf was lined with various decanters and aerators to suit every style and vintage. Wine lockers in the foyer caught my attention (after a glance at one bearing the name Cam Newton), and Cohen informed me that 1818 Club members store their private selections there. This attention to detail keeps Frankie’s high on the list for exceptional guest experience.

Servers are encouraged to remember details about their guests, like if they prefer olive oil or butter with their bread, their favorite wine varietal or whether they prefer port or coffee after dessert. “That’s Frankie’s, the Old-World style; it’s giving the guest what they want, and remembering who they are,” Cohen said.

Stellar service aside, the menu is the star. From fresh-shucked oysters and crudos to wet-aged steaks and seafood specialties, I wanted to try everything. Luis Ramirez, executive chef, who helped open Pampas Steakhouse, brings his lifelong expertise to Frankie’s impressive menu.

“My culinary experience started when I was a kid,” he remembered. “I’m from Peru and we’ve got a family restaurant. The restaurant has my mom’s name. It’s a small restaurant, but I see the family when they cook, working with the food, with the customers.”

After emigrating from Peru, Ramirez found familiarity and solace in the kitchen. Now, he has a support staff of talented sous-chefs and line cooks, some who have been working with him for more than a decade. It’s a sort of culinary dance as they work together. They’ve learned each other’s rhythms. “We don’t have space for mistakes,” he said. “I know we are human, but it has to be perfect for the customers.”

The menu presents a challenge for indecisive diners, as a bevy of prime steak cuts, fresh seafood and Italian-inspired entrees offer compelling options. You can’t go wrong with a steak perfectly seared to your specifications under the 1,800-degree broiler, but Ramirez’s Peruvian background is noticeably influential to the seafood dishes at Frankie’s. 

“I can remember when we went to the sea with the family to have fun. We went to buy fish from the guys who caught it on the boat that day. I mean, the fish is still alive, it’s still moving, you know? And we clean it, we cut it in pieces and we make ceviche. Cut cilantro, onions, jalapeno and spices. Squeeze fresh lemon juice. Seeing my family enjoy it, open a beer, listen to music. It’s those years that I enjoyed. And ceviche is one of those dishes I remember,” Ramirez said.

While glancing at the menu, you’ll find the seafood tower piles on a colossal crab cocktail, jumbo shrimp cocktail, fresh shucked oysters and, of course, Georgia trout ceviche. I decided to save that for next time. To kick things off, I ordered the beef carpaccio. The thinly shaved prime beef came dressed with arugula, fried capers, shaved Parmesan and a garlic aioli. I noted its perfect temperature, and the beef melted on my tongue, complemented by the peppery arugula. Try pairing this dish with a red Tuscan blend.

Moving on to the main event, my servers (yes, two of them) helped me navigate the many mouth-watering choices. I was presented with a display of specialty cuts, the 38-ounce aptly named Tomahawk, which could double as a bludgeoning weapon, and the less intimidating cowgirl cut, a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye. Instead, I opted for the cioppino, which my server, Patrick, described as a guest favorite. Hearty bites of the daily catch accompanied mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp and scallops in a rich tomato and wine broth that finished with a little kick. Did I mention the generous portion of lobster tail in the mix? With a thick slice of garlic bread to sop everything up, I was in heaven. 

Speaking of lobster, Frankie’s lobster macaroni and cheese, a ridiculously creamy, rich combination of campanelle pasta and copious morsels of lobster tail, is incredible. It arrived in a huge ceramic boat, which left enough to take home to my sister, a self-proclaimed macaroni expert. She practically licked the dish clean. Playing right into the Italian family vibe, sides are served family-style and can easily serve two or three people. I savored the fried Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, perfectly crisped with a sweet balsamic finish. Or you can stick to the classics, such as Lyonnaise potatoes or sautéed wild mushrooms. Whatever you choose, bring an appetite and reinforcements for dishes to share. 

On my way out, I was presented with a freshly baked muffin to enjoy the next morning. These treats are sent home with guests so that the Frankie’s experience might linger into the next day. This is just another delightful detail that is helping Frankie’s ascend the ranks of Northside steakhouses.