Years ago, I used to frequent a place on Des Moines' south side, near the Des Moines International Airport, by the name of Francie's. A friend of mine who was also a manufacturer's representative liked to go there for lunch and we'd meet there from time to time. It had been a very long time since I had been in Francie's and I decided to stop in for lunch on a recent visit to Des Moines.
Francie's first opened in 1958 and was actually run by a guy by the name of Francie. But I couldn't find any other information on Francie, other than his boys would help him out at the bar from time to time. Today, Greg and Susie Fontanini are the managing partners in Francie's. Greg is the son of the late Sarg Fontanini, a well-known amateur golfer in the Des Moines area who won many tournaments just up and across Fleur Drive on the Wakonda Club golf course.
My buddy, Randy Adams, had to go to Des Moines a few months ago and he and his wife, Lorrie, had dinner at Francie's. Randy texted me and said, "Man, great reuben sandwich at this place." And I knew exactly what he was talking about. I do remember Francie's as having one of the best reubens I'd ever had. Years ago, I wasn't big on corned beef, but I fell in love with the reuben sandwiches at Francie's. It was tough to beat.
It was after 1:30 when I pulled into Francie's. The bar and grill is tucked away just off of Fleur Drive on Wakonda View Drive (see map). There's a nice sized parking lot off to the side and there was plenty of parking after the noon lunch rush. I went in and took a seat in a booth in the corner of the place. Since it had been years since I'd last been in Francie's, I really didn't remember if anything had changed, save for the number of flat panel televisions now throughout the place.
The dining area at Francie's is totally encased in wood - wood ceilings, wood paneling for the walls. Sturdy high wooden tables with wooden stools. And, of course, the wooden bar. Francie's isn't all that big and it can get crowded in the place. And loud. I do remember that it can get loud.
My waitress for the day came over to give me a menu and asked if I wanted something to drink. I thought a beer would be good and I got a bottle of Bud Light. I looked through the menu and refamilarized myself with what Francie's had to offer. In addition to their wonderful reubens, I do remember that Francie's has a pretty good burger, as well as an outstanding Philly cheesesteak sandwich.
I hemmed and hawed over getting a burger, but the reuben kept calling my name. I remember the corned beef being fresh, tasty and tender. I'm not certain, but I think Francie's also made their own 1000 Island dressing. When my waitress came back to take my order, I couldn't resist getting the reuben. I had my choice of sides and I decided to get the fries with the sandwich.
As I waited for my sandwich to come out, a couple had sat in the booth next to me. I heard the young lady say, "Oh, boy! I've been craving a Francie's reuben all day long!" When the waitress brought out my sandwich, the woman said, "How did she know I wanted a reuben? Oh wait! It's his!"
The reuben featured lightly toasted rye bread with succulent chunks of Swiss cheese covered corned beef piled high in between the bread. Ample amounts of sauerkraut and a generous amount of 1000 Island dressing was on the sandwich. I usually ask for additional 1000 Island dressing on the side, but it really wasn't needed on the Francie's reuben. But it was far from overpowering and sloppy.
The reuben was, in a word, outstanding. From the first bite, I remembered how I also used to crave the reubens at Francie's years ago. The corned beef that they use is so tender that it almost melts in your mouth. It has such a great taste and is still one of the better reubens I've had.
The fries were the standard crinkle cut variety and pretty basic. But I was there for the reuben. I touched a few of the fries, but I ended up finishing off the sandwich with no problem. My waitress came back a couple times to check on me and did a good job as a server.
I get back to Des Moines quite a bit since it's on the way to and from Kansas City, Lincoln and Omaha. Francie's is not far off the southern freeway by-pass that I like to take around Des Moines when I come up from Kansas City. If I'd not stayed on the south side of Des Moines on a previous evening, I probably wouldn't have remembered Francie's. But seeing it as I drove by that one day brought back good memories of good food in a nice little neighborhood-style bar and grill. It had been well over 10 years since I'd last been to Francie's, but I'm sure it won't be that long until my next visit.