Frankie Marcello’s works to carve niche

Frankie Marcello’s is a new restaurant, but it has a local legacy. The owner’s parents ran the popular Bread Basket restaurants for about four decades.

Can this establishment carve such a niche in the Baton Rouge dining scene? Only if it becomes more consistent. On our two recent visits, we found some items we really liked, and some others that were really ordinary.

People who have lived in the area for a while will remember this as one of the former Calendar’s Restaurant and Bar locations, and the interior hasn’t been drastically revamped. Dark ceilings and mirrors now on one of the walls combine with the windows on three sides to create an open feeling. Though there was no host or hostess at the door, the staff called out a greeting both times we arrived and maintained friendly and attentive service throughout our stays.

Our dinner got off to an outstanding start. Although a waitress on a previous visit had tried to steer us toward the spinach and artichoke dip, we were more attracted to something we’ve never seen elsewhere — the smoked speckled trout dip ($10.95). The dip had a strong, appealing smoky flavor, which went well on the small, buttery ovals of toast or eaten by fork with the shredded lettuce on the side. So many restaurants offer nothing but the tried and true appetizers — like, ahem, spinach and artichoke dip — that it’s almost always a good bet to try the unique starters. It certainly was in this case.

And it only got better with Frank’s eight-ounce filet ($29.95). Another good bet is usually to order something that has the restaurant’s name attached to it, and that strategy paid off again. The waiter didn’t ask how we wanted this cooked, but it was just the way we would have told him: medium rare and covered with more than a dozen small, sauteed shrimp, portabella mushrooms and roasted garlic in a wine sauce. It was served with thinly sliced potatoes. This was a sumptuous piece of meat — tender, juicy, richly flavorful, as satisfying a steak as we’ve had in a long, long time.

The order-by-the-name strategy, however, didn’t work nearly so well with the trout Marcello ($26.95). It was a very attractively presented dish, with shrimp, white wine sauce, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and vegetables and shockingly little flavor. My wife asked for extra lemon just to give it some zip.

Our guests’ dishes fell somewhere in between these two. We very much liked the softshell crab ($18.95), which was large and coated in a crisp, adequately seasoned crust, and the accompanying sweet potato fries. A lot of restaurants don’t know how to cook these so they have the satisfying crisp texture of French fried potatoes, but this was pretty close. The veal marsala ($15.95) cutlets had decent flavor in the breading, but were a little chewy for our liking.

The cheesecake ($6) was sweet but lacked the tart cream cheese edge that this dessert ought to have.

Frankie Marcello’s lunch menu is priced from $10 to $15, and on our visit the food came out promptly. The shrimp Creole ($9.95) was satisfying, with about a dozen shrimp in a tart, tomato-accented sauce and a mound of white rice. The eggplant parmesan ($10.95) on angel hair pasta was cheesy and satisfying.

At our waitress’ suggestion, we tried the bananas Foster bread pudding ($6), and it is decadent. A large slab of dense, sweet bread pudding swam in a lake of sweet syrup and was topped by a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was plenty enough for two.