Just a quiet corner away from busy Monument Avenue, the Franklin Inn is hidden in a mostly residential section of the Museum District. The restaurant resurrects the space and name of a business that opened in the 1930s and has been home to many establishments over the past 75 years.
After a thoughtful renovation, the Franklin Inn reopened a few months ago, providing a homey respite and watering hole for an appreciative neighborhood. The minimalist décor — rich wood paneling and booths, a mirror and glass bar, and a checkered-tile floor provide an understated yet comfortable atmosphere, augmented only by a few historical Dementi photos of Richmond. Large windows and original stained glass allow lots of natural light to brighten the space. The one disappointment is the television turned on at the end of the bar — now an apparent mainstay at nearly every restaurant.
The menu leans toward comfort food, with lunch and dinner served daily in addition to weekend brunch. The menu says that they're serving "history-based dishes," inspired by the original menus from the 1930s. Most are familiar standards. Service is friendly and welcoming, and goes a long way in cultivating a regular crowd.
The Senate bean soup ($3.50) is my favorite item, based on a recipe served in the U.S. Senate restaurant since 1903. It's creamy and rich with chunks of smoky ham. A red lentil soup (part of a special with a sandwich for $5.95) was also well-executed — tender lentils enhanced by a healthy dose of fresh mint.
Appetizers include Chesapeake Bay crab bites ($8.25), smaller versions of the crab cakes, mostly crab and served with a spicy remoulade. The accompanying hush puppies are denser than most, more like fried corn bread with whole corn kernels.
Sandwiches are the Franklin Inn's strong suit. The Philly cheese steak ($9.95) is on the expensive side, but features tender rib-eye with grilled onions and provolone, melted on a toasted sub roll. The Devil's Triangle club ($8.95) nods to the neighborhood's seedy past in its name — this is a tidy rendition of the triple-stacked sandwich.
The Franklin Inn burger is a good value at $3.95, served with cheese, sautéed mushrooms or onions, or bacon for an additional $.95 each. The burgers are fresh and juicy, but our server was unsure of the beef's provenance. They were out of the Reuben (described as "Even the Damn Yankees would be proud...") but I am sure to return to sample one.
Weekend brunch features $5 Bloody Marys and mimosas, as well as some unique menu options. Eggs Benedict ($8.95) take on a Southern twist when the Canadian bacon is replaced by country ham, which is a pleasure for me but a disappointment to my wife, who finds it overly salty and distracting. French toast ($9.95) comes drizzled with a pineapple-yogurt sauce and an another version adds some buzz with batter spiked with van Gogh espresso vodka, imparting a subtle and refreshing coffee flavor. Corned-beef hash ($8.95) is hearty, with home fried potatoes, red and green peppers, onions and chunks of meat.
Dinner items are less successful. The Poor Richard ($10.95) chopped steak is dry and the mashed potatoes taste like the boxed variety. Penne pasta with roasted vegetables ($8.95) is moderately better, but there are not enough vegetables and whether they were truly roasted is a point of contention. I expect more concentrated flavors that the roasting process can deliver. One can add shrimp, beef or chicken for an extra $4.95, but my chicken seemed an afterthought, plopped on the pasta without being integrated into the dish.
Desserts were sparse with nothing available on one visit and a solo chocolate-turtle cheesecake on another.
Every neighborhood deserves a few decent local restaurants worthy of a regular visit, places where the staff knows you and you might see your friends. The Franklin Inn started fulfilling that mission in the 1930s, and the neighborhood is fortunate to have it back. S
The Franklin Inn
800 N. Cleveland St.
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. - midnight
Saturday 10 a.m. - midnight
Sunday 10 a.m. - 11 p.m.