When it opened in late-2017, Frankie became the first restaurant to bring Aussie-inspired cuisine to downtown Jersey City. It was the perfect time—Australian café culture was trending in a big way, and photos of bright, beautiful breakfast spreads and latte art were taking over Instagram feeds. But owners Rowen McDermott and Rebecca Johnson wanted to create a destination that offered more than just a picturesque avocado toast.
McDermott, a Sydney native with a hospitality background, drew on Australian cuisine when putting together the food and beverage menus. Johnson, an artist and Monmouth County native, designed a look that exudes an Art Deco-meets-surf culture vibe. The result is a space that is uniquely their own.
With its bright and cheery dining room, leafy plants and succulents, wicker chairs and hanging lights, Frankie feels like it could have been pulled right out of a beach town—maybe Melbourne, or even Asbury Park—and relocated to a bustling downtown. Which is to say, eating and drinking here offers a brief and welcome respite from urban living.
Over the last year, Frankie has become one of my favorite places to dine in Jersey City. The jovial hospitality is consistently great, but so is the food. Dishes feature influences from Southeast Asia, Britain and the Mediterranean, flavored with spices like za’atar, turmeric and cumin, as well as ginger, garlic, chilies and cilantro.
Start with the housemade hummus, flavored with cumin and turmeric; or the tender and juicy lamb kofta kebab, served over fresh labneh with peanuts. Both come with warm pieces of grilled flatbread. Last month, I devoured a plate of spring pea and garlic dumplings, a seasonal special I hope to see again.
More substantial dishes range from coconut green curry mussels to traditional fish n’ chips, served with thick and crispy fries. The grilled garlic shrimp are plump and succulent, and the Thai-inspired nam jim dipping sauce they’re served with hits all the right notes: at once salty, sweet, spicy and sour.
What sets Frankie apart from most of its neighbors is its wine program, which revolves around natural wines. There’s no official definition of natural wine, but it’s generally considered to be a style of winemaking that embraces sustainable, organic, or biodynamic farming, with a hands-off approach used in the winery. Natural wines can range from wild and funky to fresh and complex, but what they all have in common is that their producers are attempting to make them with as little manipulation as possible. That means no additives, and minimal sulfites.
Frankie’s wine list features bottles from Australia—home to a new generation of winemakers embracing natural wines—and other parts of the world. On some recent visits, I’ve enjoyed a lively pét-nat, Deliquente’s “Weeping Juan”; Borachio’s juicy and energetic “Flat Out” rosé; Ochota Barrels’ wild-fermented chardonnay; and an aromatic grenache from Geyer Wine Co. in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.
Want to know more about natural wine, but too afraid to ask? Don’t be. McDermott and his beverage team are laid-back and approachable, always happy to answer questions or guide you in a specific direction. You can also get acquainted with the wines by ordering a flight of three for $15.
Beyond its chill ambience and exciting wine list, Frankie offers guests other unique experiences, like regular live-model Drink & Draw events that I keep meaning to get to. On Friday, August 23, Frankie will be hosting a Yappy Hour in collaboration with pet accessory company Hiro + Wolf. Check Frankie’s Instagram for future event updates.
Frankie, 264 Grove Street, Jersey City; 201-333-0170. Open Tues-Sun.