Franklin's: 'Part of the Neighborhood'
By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, Sept. 5, 2008
At first glance: Driving toward Hyattsville on Route 1 from Washington, you won't see much for miles until you catch the fluorescent purple and pink lights of the Franklin's sign, hanging on the side of a brick building. Inside Franklin's Restaurant and Brewery, the decor is industrial, almost warehouse-like, with exposed beams and pipes, brick walls, high ceilings and vats of beer upstairs by the bar. Yet it also has a friendly vibe with bright orange and yellow painted walls and blue booths.
Local art from the Hyattsville Community Artists' Alliance hangs for sale on the walls and changes every three months.
But what really sets Franklin's apart (and screams kid-friendly) is the toy store adjacent to it. Owner Mike Franklin was a toy representative for 19 years before he fell in love with an old hardware store in his neighborhood. "I couldn't resist buying it because it was such a cool old building," he says.
He opened a sandwich shop in the space but soon realized he would have to expand the business to make money. He converted the sandwich shop into a general store full of toys and moved the food to a next-door building, what is now Franklin's Restaurant and Brewery.
At your service: The service is friendly. You may, however, have to wait for a table even if it looks like tables are open. The staff is busy on weekends. Our waitress served us soggy bread in a basket. She apologized, took it away and gave us a free beer. We never did get more bread, but she did bring us a chocolate milkshake we requested -- an item not on the menu. (I never figured out why the bread was soggy, but the waitress seemed strangely unfazed.)
On the menu: Franklin says the menu is intended to please the neighbors. In that case, the neighbors must all prefer something a little different. The menu is so expansive (including single-serving pizzas, crab cakes, penne pasta, big salads and a variety of burgers) that it lacks focus. You could almost say Franklin's has an identity crisis. "Since the beginning we've been very quirky," Franklin says.
It is a brewery with a toy store, after all.
But the idea behind the place, Franklin says, is to be a neighborhood bar and grill. With all the families there on a recent evening, that goal is being realized. Franklin's is "part of the neighborhood," he says. "I am part of the neighborhood. The appeal was to be able to do something different and do something good for the neighborhood and see whether it could be done."
The ribs are perfectly cooked and moist; they fall off the bone and melt in your mouth. Some of the best items on the menu are the starters. The heirloom tomato salad with local tomatoes, red onions and hunks of feta cheese was delicious, fresh and light. The southwestern quesadilla, which included spinach and beans, afforded a little more than the standard quesadilla and proved to be gooey and warm throughout. The Buffalo wings are just what you would want and expect: not too spicy and not overloaded with sauce. If you like onion rings, they are oversized and come in a big bowl. Just ask for them well-done to make sure they are crispy.
What to avoid: The crab dip is bland and the crab itself minced. There is also nothing Vesuvius about the Vesuvius chocolate cake, which is dry.
Wet your whistle: Franklin decided to create a brewery after realizing the growing market for microbrew beer in his sandwich shop. Beer connoisseurs will be most happy with Franklin's. The restaurant brews its own beer about every three months, including hoppy ales, stouts and a beer called Anarchy Ale, which is different every time it's brewed. You can also purchase growlers (bottles of beer filled straight from the tap) to go.
Bottom line: Have a good beer and a meal with your family at Franklin's. Make sure you check out the general store before you leave. It sells all sorts of odds and ends, including toys, notecards, wine and beer. You almost expect to see a soda pop counter. Adding to the old-timey atmosphere is the mystery of the building's origin: People believe the 19th-century building may have been a carriage manufacturer and a firehouse, but no one knows for sure because there are no records.
To top off your meal, grab a brown bag of candies such as Dubble Bubble, Tootsie Roll, Mary Jane and Bit-O-Honey for the road.