If one measure of success is having the wherewithal to pursue those things you love most, Frank Willis has led a very successful life. A towering skyscraper of a man, Frank has had four great loves in his life: family, basketball, music and chicken and waffles. They’ve been his passions and his raisons d’être. Maybe that’s why he’s done them all well.
You might remember Frank Willis as a heavily coveted recruit who played basketball for the University of New Mexico Lobos, then the only game in town. At 6’8” and 260 pounds, he was a physical presence down on the post, helping the Lobos win the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1994. Knee injuries kept him from achieving the promise he showed as a high school senior in Los Angeles. After his playing days ended, Frank remained in Albuquerque where he pined for the soul food—especially chicken and waffles–so readily available in the City of Angels. When he couldn’t find the foods he coveted, he began preparing them himself.
While he cites his mother, grandmother and aunt as formative influences on his cooking, Frank also waxes nostalgic about his frequent visits to Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles, a beloved Los Angeles soul food institution. As he had done in honing his basketball skills, he worked relentlessly on his own recipes until he had perfected them to his exacting standards. In January, 2013, he took his concept to the streets—literally, launching a food delivery business featuring soul food. It was such a hit that within nine months, he opened a brick-and-mortar soul food restaurant, Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles.
Now, Frank’s may not have been famous when it first opened, but it quickly garnered a reputation as a purveyor of peerless soul food. In 2015, Albuquerque The Magazine awarded the quickly burgeoning business a Hot Plate Award for the chicken and waffles the Duke City can’t live without. In the 2017 “best of the city” poll, the magazine’s readers declared Frank’s as the best soul food eatery in the metropolitan area. Accolades, awards and glowing media tributes share space on the walls at Frank’s with another of his four loves, music.
While you’re enjoying soul food at Frank’s, it’s only fitting that you’re surrounded by the dulcet tones and sensual stylings of sweet, soothing soul music from such stalwarts as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. A vintage sound system console stereo complete with eight-track player, turntable and cassette player sits on the distressed wood floor next to a small library of record album sleeves. Still more album sleeves and cassettes festoon the walls. Above the fireplace mantle hangs a painting of Prince right next to an electric guitar, both spotlighted by overhead lights. The only vestige of Frank’s playing days as a Lobo is his old jersey framed on the wall and sporting the number 4 he wore.
Frank’s greatest love, of course, is his family. His restaurant is the quintessential family owned and operated restaurant. Family members–sister, daughter, mother–all have a hand in day-to-day operation. Frank himself is the most visible face of the restaurant. He’s understandably proud of his business. When my friend Sr. Plata and I visited for the first time in June, 2018, he asked how we’d heard about Frank’s. I replied “everyone’s heard about Frank’s. It just took us too long to get here.” We joked about Sr. Plata having been from Los Angeles but never having been to Roscoe’s.
Frank’s menu is so much more than chicken and waffles though if that sweet and savory combination is what you’re jonesing for, a number of plates are available to sate your appetite. And, if you’re like this indolent eater and prefer not to have to work around chicken bones, there are boneless options. The most prolific offering on the menu is the Temptations Platter, a caloric overachiever showcasing wings smothered with Muddy Waters gravy served with yams, mac n’ cheese, greens and corn bread. You can also put some South in your mouth with grits prepared several ways, including the “Kiss My Grits Bowl” (a heaping bowl topped with cheese, eggs and your choice of bacon, sausage or hot links). Two po’ boy sandwiches—your choice of catfish or shrimp—are available for the sandwich lovers among us. You can also enjoy a catfish platter and a plethora of sides such as smoked turkey greens, candied yams and jazzy red beans and rice.
During our inaugural visit, only my friend Sr. Plata’s eyes were larger than his order of twelve wings and two waffles. He was awestruck at just how much meat a dozen wings could have, obviously figuring on some scrawny pieces. Not only did he get a serious work-out hefting that immense platter of poultry, he ate enough to keep him sated until at least dinnertime. It’s a good thing the two waffles were not of the Belgian variety which tend to be thicker or even he might not have been able to finish the plate. The waffles were served with a rich cinnamon butter and sweet syrup. They were a perfect complement to the battered fried chicken which was fried to a golden hue. Steam wafted upward when he bit into his first piece launching an aroma into the air that smelled of a summer picnic.
As previously recounted, this indolent blogger doesn’t much like having to work through the carapace of a lobster, crab claws and even shrimp shells. Ditto for boned chicken. That’s why the tenderoni platter (three battered chicken tenders served with fries, coleslaw and a roll) appealed so much to me. Well, that and the fact that the chicken tenders were all white meat. This is chicken worthy of Roscoe’s, better than any the Colonel could dream of preparing. The thick fries are battered in the same delicious concoction used on the fried chicken. Other restaurants serve battered or seasoned fries, but these are much better. The coleslaw is excellent, a creamy, tangy and fresh variety.
Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles is a labor of love for a very successful man who pursues the things he loves and does them all well. You won’t find better chicken anywhere in Albuquerque.
Frank’s Famous Chicken & Waffles
513 San Mateo Blvd, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 13 June 2018
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: 12 Wings and 2 Waffles, Tenderoni Platter