The handsomely renovated space, with its pressed tin ceilings, warm wood detail, and stately bar, offers a more upscale vibe than its previous incarnation, City Tavern, which was more party bar than dining destination. A visit on Friday night revealed the transformation was, indeed, attracting a new crowd: predominately, professional thirty-somethings, who gravitated toward the bar, and baby boomer city-dwellers in pursuit of a nice meal.
Food at Frankie Primo’s (or are we calling it Plus Three-Nine?), like the design and atmosphere, is a departure from dive. The menu is moderately priced (the most expensive item, risotto di giamberetti, is $22) and surprising in its expanse and variety given the simplicity of its premise—zuppa, anitpasti insalate, panini, pasta, and pizza.
Cavolo Toscano ($10), a heaping salad of tender, mild kale, currants, toasted pine nuts, and pecorino Romano tossed in an expertly portioned lemon vinaigrette, was a favorite dish, and might just be one of the best salads to be had downtown. It was large enough to feed two to three people as an appetizer or side, or one salad-lover as an entrée. With the addition of a more substantial protein element, I imagine it would make a fine workday lunch. Insalata bistecca ($16), an arugula salad topped with prime rib, sounded appealing, too.
Fortunately, we got our prime rib fix in the form of a panino with provolone, peppers, and garlic chive aioli. The meat itself was cooked tender, to the point that the sandwich was easily portioned between friends with a butter knife, and the ciabatta was fresh and crusty, with good chew. I appreciated the thoughtfulness of the accompanying sides: an antipasti medley of cold green bean and fingerling potato salads and assorted olives. I only wish that the potatoes had more salt or a more assertive dressing and that the sandwich itself featured the roasted hot peppers listed on the menu. I detected only the sweet variety, which left me wanting a kick of flavor. Next time, I will be tempted to try to the vegetarian repaldina ($9) with scrambled eggs and hot cherry peppers.
Like the prime rib, the pork shoulder and pappardelle in a dish of sugo and toasted hazelnuts ($18) were both cooked perfectly. The al dente pasta was a firm foundation for the slow-braised pork, which was served in generous hunks instead of the pulled shards of meat I was expecting. No matter—the pork submitted to my fork, falling apart with little resistance. While it was solid overall, I did find myself wondering if the chef used any amount of wine in the preparation of the sauce. Its more pronounced presence might have lent the dish a splash more depth.
In addition to panini and pasta, Frankie Primo’s offers twelve varieties of pizza ($13-17) like the carciofini, topped with artichokes, white anchovy mozzarella, olives, chili, and fontina, and a grilled vegetable and goat cheese pie. Other options include a chicken pizza with whipped roasted garlic and sweet vinegar peppers, and a soppressata pizza with basil pesto, cherry pepper tapenade, and pecorino.
On only its second night, Frankie Primo’s was already turning out a fine meal and delivering attentive, eager, and friendly service. I look forward to returning when the restaurant has had a chance to hit its stride.
Frankie Primo’s | 51 W Chippewa Street | Buffalo, New York | (716) 855-3739 | Facebook