Eating my way through the alphabet: Frank & Dino’s
Published 1:30 pm Friday, March 24, 2023
By Eden Slone
As I entered week F of our eating guide, I had a realization: there aren’t too many restaurants in the area that start with F! Frank’s Donuts is always great on a Saturday morning, and I really wanted to head over to Futile Bakery for a first-time try, but unfortunately, stopped by on a Monday – they’re closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, although it does look delicious. That left me with two options: Frank & Dino’s, a relatively new upscale Italian spot in downtown Lexington, or Fazoli’s, its more popular, far more approachable distant cousin. No negativity to my friend Fazoli’s, it’s a childhood favorite, but we’ve all been enough that we don’t need as much of a thorough guide. With Frank & Dino’s as my winner, I embraced the fancier choice, threw on a black dress, scoured the menu online, and curiously went to see if Frank & Dino’s was a bang worth the buck.
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As previously mentioned, Frank & Dino’s is a fancier spot and certainly fancier than any place I have visited so far. Even their website tag self-identifies as “Fine Italian Dining in Lexington, KY,” which is reflected in its overall presentation. Sitting pretty downtown next to long-time favorite Dudley’s, walking into Frank & Dino’s feels like you’re going somewhere special. As you open the doors, you’re greeted by a fancy bar, white tablecloths, and, frequently during the dinner hour, live music (think “Fly Me to the Moon” style). The hosts and hostesses happily help pull your chair out and adjust your seating as they hand you a larger-than-life menu. It’s a “bread basket” restaurant if you know what I’m saying quite literally, as they quickly deliver fresh bread and butter to the table. You know you’re in for a treat bigger than your average night at Fazoli’s. Settle in, listen to the lullaby combination of classy music and glasses clinking, and get ready to make the heftiest choice of the evening: what to order.
Frank & Dino’s isn’t skimping out on any food options, so their menu has categories for appetizers, salad, soup, chicken dishes, fish dishes, other meats, sides, and pasta. There wasn’t an extensive amount of options just to slap something on the menu for impressive quantity either: it was obvious through the descriptions and carefully curated ingredients that every dish was selected with thought and care. If a menu has calamari, I’m ordering calamari, plain and simple, so that’s what I started with. This was some excellent calamari. Crunchy, a little juicy, warm, flavorful, and paired with my favorite, a lemon on the side that I could satisfyingly squeeze across the plate–I was so happy with my choice – fulfilling but leaving just enough hunger for you to be squirming in your seat for the entree, precisely what an appetizer should do. I ordered two entrees, the pollo parmigiana (chicken parm, for short) and the penne alla vodka. I gasped slightly when I saw the waiter stop at my table with the feast of food he was delivering: the plates were massive.
I have never seen a chicken parm bigger than at Frank & Dino’s, and my pasta looked like it would continue to multiply as I dug in. Don’t get me wrong, I most certainly was not complaining. When I took my first bite, I quickly realized significant portions were no mistake. If I weren’t careful, I’d be licking these plates in a not-so-fancy way. The chicken parm was a chicken cutlet cooked to perfection, slathered in marinara and covered in melted cheese goodness. For it to be such a vast quantity, I expected it to be a heavy dish, but it wasn’t. The chicken was thin enough to balance the more decadent flavors.
With the vodka pasta, complemented by prosciutto and a little onion and tomato, I had to eat a little slower and pause a little longer. Why? To savor each bite. Oh, this was good. As a girl who grew up on spaghetti and chicken alfredo (both elite in their own right), I was tasting something different, a unique combination of flavors I hadn’t ever experienced before. The noodles were just the right amount of chewy and perfectly al dente. It was a little sweet, and savory, just something I could confidently recommend to someone and feel like it would be liked. While I was a little ambitious in thinking I’d lick two plates, I did do something I don’t usually do, and that is take home leftovers. I revisited these dishes the next day for lunch with my home kitchen and microwave and thought both were just as good.
The penne alla vodka. I would add a great pasta dish to the weekly rotation if I could (I don’t think my bank account would tolerate weekly visits to Frank & Dino’s, but I’ll probably work on my chef skills at home to recreate it). Other winners are calamari and the bread basket butter (trust me on this one).
Frank & Dino’s, I was hesitant about you. Throughout the food guide, I’ve prioritized everyday eating. Even if the cuisine wasn’t something you would want to eat every day, I have looked for places you could go to any day. This is not one of the places. However, just like the letter F, Frank & Dino’s, you’re a little rarer. You’re a little more special. You’re maybe not for the regular Wednesday, but for the birthday that falls on a Wednesday or the Friday, you just want to treat yourself. You are occasion eating at its finest, with food that feels worthy of eating on occasion.
I look forward to potential future celebrations with you. Until then, I’ll be dreaming of that vodka pasta.
271 W Short St, Lexington, KY 40507