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January 6, 2009

Frank and Nic's West End Grille

frank and nic'sI've been waiting and waiting for Elizabeth Large to blog about this, but it looks like it was just a Table Talk item (which appears in print) -- not a blog topic for Dining@Large.

Here is the skinny on Frank and Nic's West End Grille (511 W. Pratt St., 410-685-6800), the new restaurant which opened on the first floor of the Zenith by Camden Yards, courtesy of Ms. Large's Table Talk column:

"Frank and Nic are Frank Zafonte and Dominic Lascola, and their new restaurant is at the base of the luxury Zenith Apartments. Their place serves as a more upscale alternative to the pubs and sports bars that used to be all that was available around the stadium.

Instead of a burger and beer, you can get American cuisine with Asian accents and selections from an extensive wine list that focuses on California.

Dinner entrees -- such as seared tuna and cuts of steak -- run from $16 to $36 ...

The handsomely appointed, 200-seat space has what Zafonte calls "three dynamic areas": a bar, the main dining room and a private dining room. Outdoor seating will be available when the weather gets better.

You won't be turned away if you're wearing your Ravens shirt, says Zafonte, but you won't feel uncomfortable in a coat and tie, either. The contemporary decor is done in shades of burgundy, silver and gold, with booths and two granite-topped bars. Black-and-white photos of Baltimore scenes line the walls.

frank and nic'sThe grill is open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily, with a late-night menu served until 1:30 a.m."

Personally, I wonder if a place like this and a place like the new Diamond Tavern in the Hilton can sustain themselves.

Only time will tell.

Only time ... will tell.

(Photos by Amy Davis/Sun photographer)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:16 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Burgundy and gold? Not a smart choice this close to M&T.

Oooo good point.

Pants, what's the spread on this place -- do you think the odds are 2:1 against it lasting a year due to the unfortunate paint job?

Sounds like it should be called "Frank and Nic's West Coast Grille".

With that rather austere, if not cold, decor, I don't see the average Ravens shirted customer choosing this as their first choice*. The more upscale coat and tie crowd may love it for lunch but if the lighting in the photo is typical of their evening hours, it’s not very intimate for the dinner crowd I think they are targeting/courting.

* Maybe not even in their top ten.

This place would probably do much better if the baseball team were worth anything in this town. Wouldn't this be the perfect after-work/before-game place to have a beer and a bite to eat before strolling over to Camden Yards for the downtown work crowd? Unfortunately, no one goes to games anymore unless NYY or BOS are in town so I wouldn't put a lot of money on this place surviving long under the current structure.

First I'd like to disagree with the previous comments. Baltimore needs more places like this. Unfortunately it sounds like those individuals who commented have social lives that are dictated by the ravens season....they must play with model trains during the off season. I stopped in with a few co workers to check this place out. The place is done up right….very cool retro feel with a nice vibe…good selection of music but not overly loud…you can actually have a conversation. I came for drinks which somehow led to a three course meal. I must say the apps and entrée were second to none. I decided on the New York strip which was fantastic and the merlot butter was a first but very tasty. If you’re a coffee drinker such as myself give their house blend a shot….it was notably good. Service was great from start to finish, everyone friendly and some very nice looking ladies in there kept us longer than expected. Reasonable prices on the food and drink…..good bar scene for the young professionals of Baltimore…I will certainly be coming back for seconds.

The success of this place is going to come down to their lunch business.

They are going to have to reach out to corporations in the immediate vicinity and create discount partnerships for their employees; much the same way the restaurants in Little Italy have done with Constellation Energy and surrounding businesses

Second to their lunch business, will be their happy hour business. However, the easiest way to develop a successful happy hour business is from lunch business. Rarely do you find a successful happy hour in a restaurant that is open for lunch, but doesn’t have consistent, profitable lunch business. Plenty of books have been written on the subject. Absent of a healthy lunch crowd, happy hour is going to be tough, so it’s important to start here.

As far as happy hour is concerned, their best bet would be to target commuters who work in the city and live in the suburbs. Being within walking distance, they could develop a customer base that beats rush hour traffic here before commuting home.

Baltimore is unique because most of the downtown office population does not reside in the city. People who work and live in the city are more likely to hurry home, change and hit bars in their neighborhood. Oh how Baltimoreans hate leaving their hood.

A successful concierge marketing program will do wonders for this place, however, it takes time to develop, and vacancy rates are at an all-time high. I know they are hoping for a lot of hotel business, but from this source (at this time of year) is icing on the cake at best.

I'm always curious to see what happens when an upscale (or seemingly upscale place) is opened by a former manager/owner of $1 beer, cheap eat establishment. There were also some interesting stories on why Frank and his entire crew, for that matter, were dismissed from Mad River. Either Frank has the experience necessary to run this place, or he thinks he does. I hope for his sake it’s the former.

The marketing and public relations it’s going to take for this place is monumental compared to that of Mad River.

Although it sounds like Shane probably works at the place, I am looking forward to checking this place out. I work at the university and decent places are in short supply on this end of town. At the very least, I'm sure it will smell better than Camden Pub. There are a number of us on the westside who could care less about the Ravens or Orioles, so this place could (stress, could) be a welcome change.

That being said, I'm keeping my expectations low. At least we're getting a Potbelly soon too.

And your tab was what, 150 bucks?

Shane R,

You’re the pioneer who actually went and had a supremely enjoyable time, GREAT!, such information is always useful.

An actual testimonial of experience trumps armchair speculation based purely on Sam's post and some peoples opinion of the locale in question.

Out of curiosity, was this a predetermined destination, meaning you went out of your way to go there or discovery of convenience because you happened to be in the neighbourhood?

I went in last night for dinner with my wife. It wasn't packed at all, although more people came in later in the evening. Food was very good, waiter was great (ask for Dennis, He was a lot of fun, didnt take himself too serious) and we had a great time. They let us know that the grand opening is this weekend. I am hoping this place makes it and look forward to checking out Happy Hour there.

I went for lunch today and it was excellent.. We were dressed in casuals and there were people in suits too. Doesnt feel uncomfortable either way. I got the chicken saltimboca panini and sauted mushrooms. It was excellent. You can check their website

It has the lunch and dinner menu as PDf's too. Check it out and it'll be worth it...

So, I am not a shill, just a university employee...

Went to check it out for happy hour today. Decent specials ($4 rail, $7 martinis) as I would end up paying the same at Camden Pub for rail, with a fraction of the atmosphere. A few flat screens and plenty of tables in the bar area, and a surprising number of people (in the bar area, not so much in the dining room).

But, I do have some concerns with the menu. The food was pretty good but they could probably benefit from adding more "pub grub", or at least from having a separate bar menu. I ordered an app and soup. My friend's entree was comparable in size to my appetizer, so I'm afraid that might turn some people off. Plus, sometimes you just would rather pick at nachos than calamari while drinking.

But all in all, pretty good experience. I'll definitely be back for happy hour or lunch, but I'm hoping for a few menu tweaks in the meantime.

Frank & Nic's has plenty of reasonably priced choices such as French onion soup & a great chopped salad for $7 each. They have a really good grilled chicken sandwich which comes with excellent fries for under $10. A friend & I watched the Super Bowl in their dining room last night. There were lots of people of various ages & it was a blast!

We have eaten at Frank and Nic's twice in the last two weeks. Most recently for my husband's birthday. The service is great, very friendly folks who are anxious to answer questions and take good care of you. We ordered the french onion soup made with veal stock, the cream of potatoe soup (WOW!) and ceasar salad. The appetizers are plentiful, from the sushi, broschetta, and HUGE crab cake. Both times I ordered the steak with merlot butter and a side of brocolini as entres; my husband ordered the chicken marsala. The servings were plentiful and the steak melted in your mouth. Then there are the desserts! The chocolate creme broule is not for the calorie conscious and the banana bread pudding, WOW! We were really pleased about the location near Camden Yards and hope that we will frequent the place before and after the Oriole's games. Free metered parking is available nearby on the street. Restaurant week is a bargain and they are offering a wonderful menu for Valentine's weekend...The ambiance was great, with two separate bar areas, large TVs. One of the bar areas can be closed off for private parties and a huge projection screen is avaible.

I live a couple blocks away and Frank & Nic's price points seem way off to me.

It's priced too high for a typical Orioles fan to palate. And those wanting to dine out before a game during the summer are going to have to deal with a loud beer-swilling crowd just feet away and a high volume of traffic noise. I can only see Boston and NY fans wanting to pony up for that.

There is nowhere near enough foot traffic to sustain a regular business lunch crowd at these prices. Yes the university is close but they are a school not Legg Mason or T. Rowe doing business over lunch.

The locals in Ridgely's Delight aren't going to want to drop $100+ on dinner regularly.

Those from other places around Baltimore aren't going to want to come to the West Side and deal with parking issues to dine between Pickles, Sliders and a hotel. It's really kind of a no man's land when there's no game.

The only regular traffic I see them getting is from hotel guests and I just don't think this sort of clientelle can sustain an establishment of that size.

What they have is an upscale restaurant with a casual feel. They should have dropped the price points a bit and gone for a casual restaurant with an upscale feel. (No, I'm not trying to be pedantic.) That opens it up to more regular university traffic, more casual hotel and convention traffic, higher-end baseball fans and local residents.

As a local resident myself I have a chunk of discretionary income just burning a hole in my pocket for nice slightly upscale place to eat lunch and dinner and have drinks with the wife and neighbors. But I either have jeans and a t-shirt at Pickles or I have $150 for dinner and drinks for two. Man, they missed the boat. This area was screaming for something in between.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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