Come Share the Passion: Frank’s Gourmet Grille
by RONA MANN/Photos by Jeffery Lilly
What defines a rock star?
Usually it’s talent, incredible energy and passion, and a loyal fan base…a following. Groupies. But rock stars age, music trends evolve, fans are fickle, and eventually the bright lights and applause fade.
Enter Chef, Restaurateur, Mystic resident, Frank Grace who is indeed a bona fide rock star. And one whose star is not fading anytime soon. A resident of Mystic for more than 25 years and in love with the restaurant business for nearly twice as long, the Brooklyn native grew up on the fishing docks that line the south shore of Long Island. Even though his first job in the industry was scrubbing pots and pans at age 15, he immediately fell in love with restaurants; and other than a stint in the Navy, he began his serious pursuit and love of food with a formal culinary education at the famed Johnson and Wales University, after which he opened his own sandwich shop in New London. Seven successful restaurants later he is in Mystic, “just a mile from my home. For all these years I never knew my neighbors because I was always working in other towns. Now my neighbors are my customers, and we see each other regularly.”
Frank’s Gourmet Grille showcases the body of this man’s life’s work. It is everything he has learned and appreciates about preparing and serving good food; it is his attention to detail and willingness to listen to every customer every time; it is a menu that understands celebrating high-end as much as just having a sandwich or salad on a weeknight. And loving every part of it.
The restaurant is the perfect size for Frank Grace. While’s he’s successfully owned larger venues, he readily admits,”too big is not my love and passion. If it’s too big, I can’t have the control I want. I insist on personalizing every plate that goes out of the kitchen, and that’s the only way I will run a restaurant.”
While Grace knows every facet of the industry and has his finger on the pulse of every part of his restaurant, he relies on a staff that he values with tremendous respect. Chef Al, his chef de cuisine, has been with Frank over 10 years, while General Manager, Elyssa has covered the front of the house at several of his restaurants for nearly 15 years. “They don’t work for me,” says Frank emphatically, “they work with me. I consider myself their co-worker. There is not one member of my staff who is above or below me.”
Heady stuff indeed, but Frank Grace is a man who means what he says, delivers what he promises, and never takes for granted that the reason for his success are his loyal customers. “I tell my staff that our job is three-fold: provide great food, great service, and a clean and inviting ambiance. Follow this, and they will come.”
And come they have! Since opening this past summer, Frank’s Gourmet Grille has been packed for lunch, dinner, and at the 40 seat bar nearly every day. While the menu offers everything from salads and burgers to fresh seafood and upscale veal dishes with a choice of house made sauces, no corners are ever cut. “We do everything old school in the kitchen. When I make a wine sauce it could be from a $25. bottle of wine, because if that’s what’s needed to get the right flavor, that’s what it’s going to be. I won’t compromise the quality of my food ever.”
Although there’s only one of this chef-restaurateur-host, it often appears he’s cloned himself. While the kitchen is his passion and he spends endless hours each day in that milieu, he is also frequently out on the floor personally visiting each table, often serving the dishes, working the bar, meeting and greeting. Frank Grace is still old fashioned hands-on in a profession where many have lost that touch and are only interested in the bottom line. Frank believes in making each and every customer the top line, knowing that if he or she is satisfied, then everything else will fall into place.
And it has definitely fallen into place at this casually elegant restaurant with a rock star following. But Grace is never one to sit on his considerable laurels. “Television’s Food Network has changed our industry tremendously. Everyone now thinks they know everything about this business, and everyone’s a critic. But that’s alright. We’re in the business of being critiqued. I chose this profession, crazy as it is, but I’ve never been sorry.”
In addition to the tremendous respect Grace has for his staff and clientele, he has a deep seeded respect for food, never compromising on its integrity. He is a stickler for fresh produce, well aged meats, and creating nearly everything in his own kitchen. “We even make our own croutons and crostini in-house. Most restaurants go buy a box. I don’t work that way.”
In this season of joy, make sure you include Frank’s Gourmet Grille in your plans and meet a man who emits joy every time he talks about his love of food, his love of cooking, and his love and passion for his customers. That’s why on the house menu, in addition to the appetizers, soups, salads, lighter fare, entrees, and desserts, you’ll find the phrase, “All entrees are made with the finest ingredients, flavors, and love.”
Perhaps on second thought, Frank Grace is really not a rock star after all; for unless you are a Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen, the fame, adoration, and noise are all short-lived. Eventually the fans find someone else to latch onto and go away. And they are nothing more than a flash in the pan. Not so with Frank Grace who has been personalizing every plate that goes out with love and passion for more than 30 years and has no plans to stop any time soon.
“I never take a day for granted. I have my health, a lot of regulars, a great staff. For that I thank God every day.”
Frank’s Gourmet Grille is right in the heart of Mystic at 56Whitehall Avenue, next to the Comfort Inn.
(860) 415-4666 www.franksgourmetgrilleinmystic.com