Ilisha “Fluffy” Sampson’s grandmother only used Herr’s potato chips in her potato chip cookies, so you won’t find any Lay’s or Ruffles in Sampson’s new kitchen.
“She made them with Herr’s, and I’m using her recipes, so that’s how I make them,” the chef says from the dining room at Frannie Nicks, her new Bella Vista restaurant named after her grandmother, Frances Nicholson. The restaurant is in its early days at 824 S. Eighth Street, with a grand opening planned for Saturday, February 1, and Super Bowl specials the next day.
Sampson describes the menu at Frannie Nicks as soul food and comfort food. She’s starting out with a fairly short list of dishes as the restaurant settles in, but plans to add several more options, including vegetarian and vegan plates. For now, she’s making entrees like fried whiting, meatloaf, and chicken wings with a variety of sauces, including one Sampson calls “honey crack,” each served with a choice of two sides — mac and cheese, yams, greens, string beans, seafood salad, and the vegetable of the moment, cabbage. There are also cheesesteak egg rolls, and fries loaded with chunks of fried chicken, jalapenos, fried onions, and a house-made cheddar sauce.
On the sweet side, the restaurant serves banana pudding and the chewy butterscotch potato chip cookies, in original and strawberry versions, that Sampson is known for among friends and family, who have been tasting her creations for years.
The chef has been a hairdresser for almost three decades, catering events for family and friends on the side. Opening her own place has been a dream for a while. She started looking for a location, met one of the building’s owners, restaurateur Leigh Maida, and everything came together.
There’s a liquor license so Frannie Nicks has a bar, with drinks like the pound cake — vanilla vodka, Bacardi Limon, triple sec, and grenadine — and the extra-boozy Uber with whiskey, spiced rum, vodka, simple syrup, and Coke. “You’ll need to call an Uber after you drink it,” jokes Courtnee Dean, a longtime friend of Sampson and a bartender and server who’s helping out at the new restaurant. Dean also runs Khaos in the Kitchen, a cooking class for kids that focuses on healthy eating habits. She plans to occasionally hold classes in Frannie Nicks. The space can also be rented out for private events.
It’s open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the week and until late night on Friday and Saturday, when the kitchen takes orders until 11:30 p.m. That’s unusual for the neighborhood, which is better known for its small BYOBs, though Frannie Nicks does share a building with a new bar, Ease. Both replace New Orleans-themed eatery Acadia, abruptly closed last year. Ease and Frannie Nicks share a kitchen — the owners, who also have Local 44 and Clarkville in University City, asked Sampson to create a food menu for Ease as well.