97 Cavanagh St Cheltenham, VIC 3192
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-4pm; Sun 8am-3pm|
|Features||Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Cheap (mains under $20)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9584 2620|
The first time I went to Frank's I parked a little way away and walked there in spring sunshine, past a spry man tidying his garden. We got chatting. He told me he was 90 and waited for me to disbelieve him, which I duly did. I admired the neat lawn, then told him I was heading for a bite to eat. "Oh, at Frank's?" he asked. "Is it good? I've never been — in fact, I've never had a tea or coffee in my life."
I envisaged all the beverages I've consumed, Olympic swimming pools floating across my mind. I couldn't tell him if Frank's was good on my way in, but I told him on the way back. "Yes, it's very good," I told my new friend as he snipped his neat shrubs. "If you suddenly hanker for a cuppa, there's your place."
Frank's opened nearly three years ago and has embedded itself in its southern suburb, two minutes from Southland and 10 times as good as anything you'll find there.
It's busy, welcoming and efficient, popular with mums and tradies, work lunchers and weekend brunchers. It ticks off all the things we are lucky to count as basic amenities in a Melbourne cafe: great coffee, dog-friendly pavement tables, an allergy-aware menu, high chairs and the requisite sprinklings of kale, kewpie and quinoa.
So the basics are covered but Frank's goes further. Its chefs have fine-dining backgrounds but they also like spending nights with their families so they've called time on the restaurant grind and brought their cheffy finesse to this off-Broadway cafe. Eli Faye, a senior pastry chef who's worked for top caterers including the Big Group, leads a team with history at hatted restaurants including Donovans and the now-closed The Point Albert Park. It shows.
You can see the cheffiness in little things, like the chilli bechamel that oozes over the chilli-scrambled eggs, turning them from a sturdy, spicy breakfast into a luxuriously epic brunch.
It's there in the chicken sandwich, too. Juicy poached thigh is diced with capers, tarragon and mayo and piled between sourdough that's buttered on both sides then gently, evenly grilled. So far so very, very good.
What makes it great is the little pot of salsa verde on the side, fragrant with basil and parsley, jazzed up with garlic and lemon. This burst of slick green goodness has the cut-through that makes it a pleasure to eat this toastie to the last crusty crumb.
There's fine-dining flair in the summer salad, a riff on panzanella built over rich roasted capsicum puree and layered up with grilled wedges of cos lettuce, fat croutons made from milk buns, baby cucumber, mini tomatoes and olives marinated in-house. It's finished with torn buffalo mozzarella and balsamic dressing and is thoughtful, balanced and satisfying.
You can take the pastry chef out of the big kitchen but you can't stop him having those sweet-tooth dreams. Eli Faye always has a fancy-ish dessert on the go at Frank's. At the moment, it's a superb spin on strawberry shortcake, starring a cylindrical biscuit filled with whipped cream, white chocolate pearls and strawberries.
I had it for lunch dessert (because you only live once) but Faye also suggests you could share an egg breakfast, then divvy up dessert for afters. Genius!
If I park my car in the same place, maybe I'll even find a 90-year-old mate to go halves with.
Rating: Four stars (out of five)