Australia is a dream destination for a lot of people, myself included. But I recently discovered that the sun-filled, laid-back Aussie lifestyle is way closer than I thought possible. Without having to hop on a 22-hour flight or acting out my fantasy of up and moving to an undisclosed paradise, I instead took a stroll over to Frankie in Jersey City.
This place feels more like a vacation, than a restaurant. But rest assured, Frankie doesn’t just present itself as a form of Down Under escapism. Owners Rebecca Johnson and Rowen McDermott, the latter of whom hails from Sydney, are channeling the breadth of Australia’s offerings from Art Deco décor and natural wines to a wide variety of inspired dishes, all with some degree of authenticity.
Both inside and out, Frankie delivers on the spirit of summertime. Johnson, a Monmouth County native and Pratt graduate is to thank for the restaurant’s bright interior and during the warmer months, equally as adorable outdoor patio with artificial grass and colorful umbrellas. McDermott, who comes from a hospitality background, handles all things food and beverage. Together, the two have shaped multiple Jersey City projects over the years, most recently helping Johnson’s parents to open Fox & Crow over in The Heights. When it came to Frankie—a place of their very own filled with an abundance of plant life, nods to surf culture and neon blue signage on the outside—the vision was to create a no-frills, casual neighborhood spot that focused on better quality ingredients, not unlike the restaurants one would come across in Sydney.
“For people who haven’t been there, this might not be an immediate thought but there’s a big Art Deco scene in Sydney. So a lot of the references you see like the archways, windows and different types of glass as well kind of evoke that Art Deco feel,” Johnson explained. The beachy, coastal vibes at Frankie frequently remind goers of places like Miami, Los Angeles—pretty much anywhere that’s warm, and that was the idea. Johnson was sure to steer away from anything too industrial and instead went with a modern, boho-meets-retro aesthetic with sorbet shades on the walls, metallic finishes by the bar, soft furnishings, lantern lighting and custom mobiles that make her think of sunsets.
McDermott used his hometown of Sydney as an umbrella concept when coming up with Frankie’s food and drink menus. While I’m no expert on Australian cuisine, McDermott equated it to New American dining with influences from Southeast Asia, Britain and the Mediterranean. Dishes shift from hummus spiced with za’atar, cumin and turmeric; labneh with blueberry, pistachio, honey and thyme; grilled garlic shrimp with nam jim, a Thai-style sauce with ginger, garlic, green thai chilis and cilantro. There are also heartier dishes representative of Australian and English comfort food such as individual meat and vegetable pies; fish n’ chips with charred lemon, malt vinegar and lemongrass tartar sauce; and mussels served in a green coconut curry topped with toasted coconut, peanuts and cilantro.
Baring similarities to California, McDermott relates Sydney’s beach scene to the health-conscious culture that surrounds the sunny metropolis of L.A. He kept this in mind when coming up with their cocktail program, offering drinks that use ingredients such as fresh beet, carrot and ginger juices as natural flavor and color enhancers. They’re also serving CBD “mocktails” that follow those same principles using Jersey City’s own Rosebud CBD, which can be added to any beverage, even those including alcohol.
Frankie’s brunch offerings expertly fall in line with the Australian way of life—a country who’s been leading the way in avocado toast for years, or so I’ve read. There are dishes us Americans know to be staples including ricotta pancakes, smoked salmon and bacon, egg and cheese on a roll. Then there are the outliers which showcase the merging of cultures including Vegemite on sourdough and the full English breakfast with eggs, bangers, bacon, beans and tomato. Again, there are fresh juices and fresh juice cocktails to choose from and also coffee creations from Jersey City’s modcup. If there’s one thing to note about Australians, they take their coffee very seriously.
However, at the forefront of Frankie is their natural wine program. Both McDermott and Johnson describe the restaurant’s ideology for introducing natural wines as approachable and down-to-earth, breaking the stigma that one needs to know a lot about wine in order to enjoy it. For those new to the scene, natural wine contains no colorants or stabilizers and not everything is made to look and taste exactly the same. Orange wine, anyone?
In the midst of the craft cocktail and craft beer movements, natural wine seemed to be the obvious progression for imparting more sustainable, artisanal and good-for-you ingredients onto restaurant menus across the world. McDermott, who’s built Frankie’s offerings to over 30 different global varieties, acknowledges the learning curve that natural wine presents but encourages guests to try as many of them as possible.
“Natural wines can have some pretty interesting textures and flavors to them that aren’t always what a lot of people would consider to be traditional flavors and colors of wine,” he explained. “I think for us what’s important is having a good relationship with different importers and distributors. We’re able to have a balance of the weird and wonderful, as well as ones that are more understandable to those people who may not drink wine all the time but still want something that’s classic and tasty.”
From live-model Drink & Draw events hosted by JC’s Deep Space to Sade Sunday brunch, Frankie is no doubt the cool, semi-new kid on Grove Street—the namesake of which is actually Johnson and McDermott’s pint-size chihuahua. And unlike other “of the moment” restaurants where it’s tempting to want to Instagram every square inch, the overall Aussie vibe of Frankie is low-key, friendly and not to fret, still very photogenic.