South Africa, Franschhoek, 11 March 2024; In a valley famous for its haute cuisine, starched tablecloths and multi-course tasting menus, the buzz around Franks Corner Bar and Grill has swept through the Cape Winelands town of Franschhoek like a breath of fresh air. Located slap-bang in the heart of the village, Franks is the passion project of American entrepreneur – and proud Franschhoek resident – Frank Rodriguez, who tapped into the culinary skills of his close friend, acclaimed chef Reuben Riffel, and the hospitality acumen of his business partner and co-owner of the restaurant Alex McCormack, to create a contemporary dining destination serving up a fresh and simple take on modern American cuisine.

From left to right: Alex McCormack and Frank Rodriguez | Frank Rodriguez | Aviv Liebenberg and Reuben Riffel

“My wife Ellen and I came to Franschhoek on holiday for the first time in 2006,” remembers Rodriguez. “After just four days here we wound up buying a home! We just fell in love with the valley and its people, and ever since then we’ve tried to share it with as many people as we can.”

While Rodriguez is a familiar face in the valley thanks to his partnership in The Franschhoek Beer Company, which he co-owns with McCormack and Riffel, he has long dreamed of opening a restaurant in the village… when the right location came along.

“I’m a foodie at heart,” says Rodriguez. “I love to cook, I love to eat. I’ve been friends with Reuben since we first came to the valley, and when this opportunity on Huguenot Street came up, with what we feel is the best location in town, we jumped on it.”

“This is not just a tourist town,” adds Reuben Riffel, the Franschhoek-born chef and restaurateur. “Frank and I know that, and we really wanted to create a dining destination that was as much for the locals and as the tourists.”

First came a year of renovation and reinventing with McCormack closely guiding the 42 Huguenot Street project. With the goal to create a contemporary American restaurant and taproom, imbued with just a touch of New Orleans style, architect Suzanne Schekman and interior designer Francois du Plessis have infused the double-volume dining room with a sense of genuine warmth, hospitality and comfort. It’s an inviting space of wooden floors, oversized leather banquettes and custom-made hand-crafted furniture lit by bespoke pendant lights. Throughout the room, a colour scheme of rich green tiling and colourful wallpaper takes its cue from the beer bottles used by The Franschhoek Beer Company, forming a central part of the experience and aesthetic.

Come hungry!

But it’s the menu of contemporary American-inspired cuisine that has drawn hungry locals and curious travellers into Franks since opening in December 2023. And Franks – like its namesake – doesn’t take itself too seriously. You won’t find tasting menus or wine flights here. Don’t come expecting foams, palate-cleansers or diner-table theatrics. Instead, in a town too often known for marathon tasting menus that cost a fortune and leave you famished, Franks is all about elevated cooking at an accessible price.

“The expensive tasting menus that you find all over the Winelands have their place, and I like them every now and then, but for me what’s more important is value-oriented, simple, fresh, quality food,” says Rodriguez.

“You can’t put American cuisine in a box”

And Riffel and his business partner Ryno Snyman– together with Executive Chef Aviv Liebenberg – have outdone themselves in creating a collection of dishes he dubs ‘New-Style American’, with the diversity of communities across the USA allowing the freedom to create dishes that celebrate both traditional and contemporary culinary cultures.

“You can’t put American cuisine in a box,” says Riffel. “It’s so diverse, with so much regionality, and that means we’re tapping into a whole range of flavours and food traditions.”

On the menu the starters also serve as a collection of small plates; ideal for a light lunch shared on the terrace overlooking the bustling main street of Franschhoek. Here the flavours roam widely, from baba ghanoush and tuna tataki, to the classic cream-and-wine sauce of the steamed West Coast mussels; a perfect pairing with The Franschhoek Beer Company’s award-winning Weissbier No. 5.

Another firm favourite is the Corn Dog, a classic American snack given a lift here by homemade ketchup and pickled cucumbers, and a fine dance partner to the Liberty American Pale Ale.

Prime cuts, Pira grilled

Main courses are focused on steak – generous portions of premium grain-fed beef – broiled in the kitchen’s imported Pira charcoal oven and finished on a flame grill. Here they’re served unadorned, putting the prime cuts centre stage, with a choice of sides.

Another standout is the pork chop – an uncommon cut in the Cape – with braised red cabbage, blue cheese and mustard cream, while the ‘Nashville’ Hot Chicken takes the flavours of this American southern classic – garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper – and reinvents the serving in a succulent deboned chicken quarter carefully brined, marinated and char-grilled. Something less spicy? Franks has become Franschhoek’s go-to for classic Sole Meunière, served with Liebenberg’s signature pomme purée and a lemon butter sauce.

“The filet of sole is out of this world,” says Rodriguez. “It’s delicious. It’s usually my standard order because it’s just so beautifully prepared.”

A concise selection of salads, burgers and pasta plates are also on offer, while a trio of desserts, drawing heavily on American favourites, rounds out the menu.

“We do a fantastic cheesecake right now, but going into winter we will look towards warmer desserts; crumbles and American-style apple pie,” says Liebenberg, who takes day-to-day control of the kitchen. “When you’re keeping it simple and fresh on the plate, it really all comes down to using quality ingredients.”

A focus on flavour

And what sets Franks apart is the time, effort and passion that have gone into transforming seemingly simple concepts into memorable plates. While some dishes may seem straightforward, there’s no shortage of attention to detail in the layers of flavour built into each dish.

At Franks, chips are all hand-cut and triple-cooked. In the Franks ‘house salad’, cucumbers are marinated and the tomatoes pre-seasoned, while the addition of traditional amasi adds layers of flavour to the hand-made honey-mustard dressing. Mayonnaise is made in-house, as are the pickles served with the corn dogs. The sausages for those are custom-made for Franks by a traditional family-run butchery; just one of the many ingredients handpicked from select producers and suppliers.

The menu has also been carefully created to pair neatly with craft beer. Although there is a compact wine list focused on Franschhoek estates, the heart of the drinks offering is the selection of The Franschhoek Beer Company brews on tap at the bar. And you won’t have to choose just one: with the entire range on tap – including the ‘Small Batch’ special releases – guests can also opt for a Tasting Tray of all six. The complete range of The Franschhoek Beer Company’s flavoured seltzers are also available.

Franks Corner Bar and Grill is located at 42 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek and offers an all-day menu from noon until 10pm daily.

Book via | IG: @franks_corner_za

For Press and Media assistance, contact Ian Hamilton Manley of Manley Communications via email or +27 (0)82 826 0456.

Photo Credit: Frans Marais of DreamCatcher Productions