Frank and Ernie’s | Healdsburg

Prime Rib Sunday diner at Frank & Ernie's

Frank and Ernie’s is the restaurant that no one and everyone is talking about.

Situated just outside the carefully manicured bubble of Healdsburg’s downtown tourist zone, there’s no glitzy advertising or chef-driven menus to ponder in the window here. There is no website to consult for mission statements, produce pedigrees or artful photography. In fact, there’s no website at all. As night falls, the restaurant’s bare windows magnify the vehicular paparazzi of car headlights in the parking lot. Inside, harried bussers fold napkins in the entry while confused diners look around in vain for a hostess.

Heresy just blocks away, at Frank & Ernie’s there’s an unmistakable feeling that no one here is trying to impress you. And maybe that’s why locals weary of the nearby gastro-circus seem to love it.

Opened in late 2010, Frank and Ernie’s is, at face value, an old school steakhouse owned by a local guy, Ron Palmieri. Named for his father and uncle, the seemingly unremarkable restaurant  has risen from the ashes of the old Western Boot. In the kitchen, Chef A. J. Lockwood (formerly of Safari West) turns out slabs of char-broiled sirloin, hangar, New York strip, rib eye, filet mignon, prime rib (Friday through Sunday) along with a couple of silly chest-beaters that top out at 24 ounces. Without a hint of irony, each comes with a baked potato, pilaf or fries; bbq beans and horseradish cream.

The rest of the menu is presented with an equally straight-face: Shrimp Scampi, Pan-Seared Halibut, Caeasar Salad, Onion Rings, Cheeseburgers, French Dip and Mud Pie. The word “classic” is used a lot. Regulars are honest about managing your expectations. “It’s just a locals place,” they say.

Shrimp Scampi at Frank & Ernie's

But here’s where unremarkable becomes something very remarkable. Without pretention or pomp, Frank & Ernie’s effortlessly gets right what so many other restaurants work hard to get completely wrong.

Why? First off, service is well-timed and efficient, even when the servers are up to their elbows in customers and balancing five plates on their arms. “I’ll be right with you,” is a mantra they live up to. The food isn’t life-changing, but without exception satisfying. Okay, the onion straws may be a little life-changing. The prices are exactly in line with the quality of the food: Appetizers running between $5 and $8, entrees around $18 and steaks between $16 and $30. The convivial atmosphere of winemakers, townies, shopkeepers makes for plenty of neighborliness and families are welcome. The wine list is local and refreshingly uninflated.

The result: People just seem to like it here. Says a Yelper, “Just what the doctor ordered – a locals joint. Frank and Ernie’s is exactly what Healdsburg needs.” Bottles of coveted wine sit on tables with nachos and ravioli. The ambient noise is from the bustling kitchen rather than a state of the art sound system. The bar is a promising alternative to the historically divey B&B Saloon, which too many Wine Country bachelorette parties seem to have found lately. Off-duty chefs drop by for Hawaiian short ribs and mercifully few picky tourists seem to find their way here.

Mud Pie at Frank & Ernie's

Exactly what Healdsburg needs. So now that you know about it, do us all a favor and keep it under your hat. Because Frank & Ernie’s is the kind of place insiders already know about. And outsiders don’t need to.

Frank & Ernie’s, 9 Mitchell Lane, Healdsburg, 433-2147. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Tuesday.

Author: biteclub

Food Dining and Restaurants in Sonoma County and beyond, BiteClubEats.com is Wine Country dining with Drive-Thru Sensibility.

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14 Comments

  1. Just recently went. I was hoping for a great local eatery but was sorrily disappointed. Meat was subpar and sides I could make at home better. So I was happy to try but once will suffice. Support local only if it is worth it!!!

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  2. yes frank and ernies is a great locals place! service was excellent the past three times i went and the food was exceptional!!! my favorite is the yaki chicken, mmmm just the right amount of ginger for me! i will be visiting all the time. keep up the great work ronnie!!!

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  3. We will be at Frank & Ernies tonight. Have you had the French Dip Sandwich yet? Lots of meat and that whisper of horseradish is the best. Today is Ernie’s 89th birthday, by the way.

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  4. Went there, not impressed. Prices for a minuscule amount of beef on their steak sandwich which was brought cold were a tad high, for lunch, Will try it for dinner and see if they can redeem themselves.
    It was the first week they were open, so I am willing to give them another chance.

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  5. I’m with you, Heather…that prime rib looks dee-licious! I can’t wait to try this place. Maybe after barrel tasting, in March…

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    • Okay, so I’m gonna admit here that the reason the photos are kind of crappy is because my expectations were kind of low and I didn’t really figure I’d be shooting much. Once the food started coming, i was like, Crap! These pictures are awful!

      Jeff Cox is doing a review for Sunday (I just found out), and they took some super nice pics for the paper. So read my piece, then look at the pretty pictures in the paper on Sunday. :)

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    • Yaaaaaa!! We dont have to go to Crocklewood anymore for overpriced food and bad attitudes!!!!

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      • @ JF, Wow! I thought I was the only one that detested Cricklewood. It has been almost seventeen years since I went in and was treated as less than human by the owner himself! I vowed then and there that I would never go back!! There is not a single place in Santa Rosa that I can find that offers a reasonably priced quality steak. Cattlemens? Forget it! I have tried many times over the years only to be disappointed each time. I have not been to Starks but I know they are a higher end joint and not a everyday eatery for most of us. The closest I can find is Outback and that is a sad statement for this town. I will definitely be giving Frank and Ernies a try very soon and support good service, good food and a reasonable price point. I hope they are all of the above!!

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  6. From the looks of the picture of the cut of prime rib it could still Moo at you. Use local beef? Hopefully our beloved Clo the Cow is pardoned.

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  7. Great write up. I’d add that we recently went there with the kids, and not only was the staff exceedingly kid-friendly, they had a well priced and well conceived children’s menu, even including a pint-sized steak, which we dutifully ordered. Also, the ground beef comes from Painted Hills – I’d rather see Marin Sun Farms, Black Sheep, Owen Family, Mac MacGruder, or some other local guy, but still, that is a really good, natural beef company to be sourcing your burger grind from.

    Oh, and the salad was CRISP. Maybe that sounds trifling, but how many steakhouse salads have you had w/ brown tinged lettuce?

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    • Are you aware that Painted Hills beef is raised by the Mauritson family with the Dry Creek winery? Support your local farmers!

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