There’s no one in the kitchen at Frank’s Americana Revival named Frank, nor on the floor greeting guests or delivering heaping plates of fried chicken. Those tasks fall to longtime chef Albert Estrada (Ed. note: We learned after press time that Albert Estrada is no longer with the restaurant.) or one of the members of the Shine family: patriarch and owner Michael, a jovial man in his 50s who knows nearly every patron by name; elder son and general manager Chris, who also runs the wine and beverage program in the elegantly appointed White Star Bar; and younger son Colin, the chef de cuisine who’s perfected Frank’s gumbo recipe and guards it as if it contained all the secrets to the restaurant’s success. And it just might.
Nearly three years ago, Frank’s Americana Revival was Frank’s Chop House, a River Oaks steakhouse run by longtime restaurateur Frank Crapitto. Located on the same site as The Stables, another popular steakhouse and former Houston institution, Frank’s Chop House was known for its chicken-fried steak. When Shine purchased the restaurant from his old friend, he was determined to leave that chicken-fried steak intact even as he turned the old chop house into a temple of classic Southern favorites, “They’re not necessarily the most trendy, hip, cool menu items,” admits Shine. But as a lifelong restaurateur, he understood the appeal of something more important and timeless than trendiness: comfort.
Soon, he was reworking the menu—which he’d purchased along with the building and its employees—at the newly christened Frank’s Americana Revival in an effort to update its staple, classic dishes, even as part of its former name remained behind. “We realized how many people loved the name,” Shine laughs, so it stayed as a tribute to Shine’s great-grandfather and his uncle—both Franks—as well as Crapitto himself.
Crapitto’s meatloaf recipe was one of the first that Shine and chef Estrada tackled. “If we’re gonna do a meatloaf,” Shine recalls thinking, “we gotta do the best damn meatloaf.” The result was a beef, pork, and veal blend topped with bacon-tomato jam that quickly became one of the restaurant’s best-selling dinner items.
But nothing at Frank’s can compete with its fried chicken and chicken-fried steak, which together account for over 20 percent of weekly sales “even when we’re out of fried chicken for a day or two,” laughs Shine.
Today, business is up 65 percent at 3736 Westheimer since Frank’s Americana Revival took over—a figure that Shine attributes to his family’s determination to evoke what he calls a “neo-contemporary” nostalgia—regardless of what one’s own version of comfort food may be.
In the case of Katie Earthman Cullen, fourth-generation Houstonian and member of the sprawling Cullen family—our city’s answer to New York City’s Astors—it was beef stroganoff. “Katie was turning 50,” recalls Shine, “and her grandmother called to set up a ladies luncheon for her birthday,” dropping a hint that Katie’s favorite childhood food was beef stroganoff. Shine and Estrada whipped up a version with filet mignon, a wild mushroom demi-glace, and house-made pappardelle. It was an instant hit, and quickly became Frank’s Monday night special. “It wasn’t a comfort food item in my house growing up,” says Shine, “but it was in the Cullen family.”
Similarly, Frank’s keeps a supply of liver-and-onions on hand as an off-menu item for the “10 or so customers that love” it, and Shine worked with former governor Mark White’s wife to create a recipe for chicken-and-dumplings with brined chicken, fresh carrots and peas, and a pastry dough that met and eclipsed her husband’s childhood memories of his favorite dish.
Given the demo that inspires many of its recipes, you might be surprised to hear that the clientele at Frank’s, attracted by the restaurant’s reworked classics, is only getting younger. For Shine and his family, however, it’s just as much about ensuring everyone feels taken care of. “These are the things we love to eat and that we’re passionate about,” he says.
“I’m serving something I would have made for you at home.”