Michael Shine had a business plan. A veteran of the restaurant industry, owner of Texas Food Group, and former president of The Greater Houston Restaurant Association, Shine has been involved in the restaurant industry for years. But this was going to be the first restaurant he owned outright. He was going name it Mick and Nell's, after his grandparents, and the menu was going to offer classic American food, the type your grandmother would make.
One day he was dining at Frank Crapitto's Frank's Chop House, located on Westheimer near the corner of Weslayan, and he realized that he didn't have to build his restaurant from scratch. He offered to buy the restaurant from Frank, and though it took some time and a lot of convincing, he was finally able to do it.
"We didn't even close," he told me, when I asked him how the transition took place. It ended service one evening as Frank's Chop House, and the next morning it opened as Frank's Americana Revival, the subject of this week's cafe review.
Shine decided to keep Frank's in the name of the restaurant, because that's what the clientele all called it. He added the "Americana Revival," because he didn't want people to think of it as a steak house, but as a place where you could get great classic American food.
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Chef Albert Estrada, who'd been the executive chef at Frank's Chop House, opted to stay on, and they forged ahead. Together with Shine's son, who works as sous chef under Estrada, they tweaked old recipes to make them better. They improved the sourcing of their produce and put an emphasis on local products, and added USDA prime beef. They removed some dishes from the menu, such as a pasta bolognese, and put in their place new dishes, like chunky meat and tomato pasta sugo rosa. Old dishes became better, like the chicken fried steak, a signature of Frank's Chop House.
New dishes slowly emerged, such as grillades and grits, pan-seared creole snapper, grilled yellowfin tuna, and pan-roasted chicken. The restaurant's menu now includes fewer than half the dishes that came from the kitchen of Frank's Chop House, and it is much less steak-heavy.
There is nothing cutting-edge about this menu. The objective was to make everything you order taste great. So that something as traditional and staid as a potatoes Lyonnaise side dish becomes the one thing I can't stop talking about. So that the gumbo, which I normally don't like, becomes my go-to soup. So that a simple avocado and tomato salad with its cumin-lime vinaigrette is so good that I order it again in a follow-up visit. Even the wine list, which was put together by Shine's son and partner, Chris, is extremely well curated, offering a wide variety at very reasonable prices.
"It's our interpretation of all the great menu items that we've eaten across America," says Shine. In a landscape as diverse as Houston's, there's always room for honest-to-goodness old-fashioned American food, and on that, Frank's definitely delivers.