All-American tradition continues at Cousin Frankie's USA Grill
Thursday, September 19, 2013 12:00 PM
After an electrical fire put Cousin Frankie's USA Grill out of business at its original location, the casual American eatery has since been reestablished in a new one.
The Americana-themed concrete patio, new this season, outside Cousin Frankie’s USA Grill, located in the municipal parking lot at 112 Willett Ave.
RICHARD ABEL|WESTMORE NEWS
"I was just getting established," said owner Frank Blasi. After 22 months at 110 Adee St., business was going well when the July 6, 2011 fire closed the entire building-which took up nearly an entire block-due to multiple building code violations.
"I couldn't do anything for the first four months," said Blasi, a lifelong Port Chester resident who will be 48 at the end of the month. "I had to give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to fix the place. After four months, I pulled everything out and put it in storage and started looking for another spot. Now I have a great landlord, Jeff White. He's very reasonable."
"It was a blessing in disguise that I got out of there," said Blasi, "but he [his previous landlord] got a slap on the wrist and he put me out of business." In fact, Harry Hedvat got slapped with substantial fines by the Village of Port Chester and had to make major upgrades to the electrical system and get a new site plan approved for the 11 apartments and multiple stores in the building. The stores along Adee Street where Cousin Frankie's was located required handicapped accessibility in order to reopen or be leased to new tenants. The old Cousin Frankie's space remains vacant.
White approached Blasi about relocating to Cousin Frankie's present space at 112 Willett Ave., the former Cablevision garage where the cable company once parked its trucks and stored its satellite dishes, located smack in the middle of the municipal shoppers' parking lot. "He called me and I came and looked at it and saw the potential it had," said Blasi. "He gave me a good lease and I felt it was right."
Out $175,000 it had cost him to renovate his original restaurant and wasn't able to recoup, Blasi took on an investor, retired Port Chester Police Officer George Herrera, to allow him to open his second.
"There was nothing here," said Blasi. "It was a shell, so we did everything except the walls and ceiling were all done." They recreated the all-American décor of the previous smaller space, made a party room accommodating 30 upstairs and later installed a patio which has been in use for the first time this summer.
Since the concrete patio is actually on Village of Port Chester property, Blasi had to get permission from the village board to go ahead with it.
"It looks nice and it catches the eye," he said. It continues the restaurant's Americana theme with red, white and blue umbrellas and a royal blue border decorated with American flags. A garden with rose, hydrangea and other bushes and greenery was planted next to the patio to beautify the area.
As Blasi concedes, this new location is "completely out of view," so he has relied on word of mouth to let people know where it is. It's been tough, he said, but "14 months into it, it's going toward the right direction." Soon he hopes to be able to do some advertising.
When he opened four years ago, Blasi said with so many ethnic restaurants in Port Chester displaying their flags, there was a need for an American eatery boasting those of the USA. That was his impetus to open Cousin Frankie's USA Grill, a sort of glorified diner with a strictly American décor serving good ole American food. "There are not too many American places," he said recently. "It's good we have variety. In Port Chester everywhere you turn there's a good place to eat."
With four Frank Blasis in his family-his grandfather, uncle and cousin who owns Frank's Pizzeria & Restaurant in Port Chester besides himself-Blasi has always been known as cousin Frankie and thus the name of the restaurant was a natural extension of his assumed name.
"We are a country that welcomes everybody. It's about different types of people, but we should respect our country also," said Blasi back in June 2009. "I'm Italian and my wife is Cuban and this is the country we chose to come to."
Classier all-American decor
The decor is a little classier in this new place than it was in the old one, but it's still all-American--the same bald eagle logo, a wooden "God Bless America" sign over the bathroom, a red, white and blue flag fashioned out of tile, framed photographs of monuments like Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell, a painting of American servicemen, a print of the flag raising on Iwo Jima and of the famous photo of a sailor coming back from World War II kissing a surprised young woman in Times Square decorating nearly every inch of the pale blue and magenta wall space.
Silver metal wall covering reminiscent of an old diner faces the entire wall opposite the entrance where a granite counter is lined with six royal blue stools. This metalwork matches the silver ceiling with its exposed ductwork. Gray Formica-topped tables set with royal blue paper placemats and silver chairs with royal blue seats provide seating for another 42. A ceramic chef holding a blackboard dubbed "Kitchen Mudda" watches over all. The space is brightly lit by natural light streaming through the windows as well as by attractive fixtures hanging from the ceiling.
Expanded menu includes Italian specialties
The menu has expanded but still features all-American breakfasts: pancakes, French toast, eggs and bacon and omelets as well as all-American lunches: hamburgers ($4.95), cheeseburgers ($5.75), hot dogs ($2.50), chicken fingers ($5.25), mozzarella sticks ($5.95), fries ($2.75), tuna ($4.75 on a roll or bread, $5.75 on a wedge or wrap), ham and cheese ($4.75 and $5.75), Philly cheese steak ($5.95 and $6.95), grilled cheese ($3), BLTs ($4.25) and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ($2.25).
A variety of wraps, all $6.50, bear names like The Liberty Wrap (sliced grilled chicken with bacon, American cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo stuffed with fries), The Uncle Sam (grilled chicken Caesar) and The Mount Rushmore (BBQ chicken strips with bacon, onions, lettuce, tomato and cheddar cheese).
Besides that, you can enjoy your meal with a chocolate, vanilla or strawberry milkshake ($2.75 served in a small fountain glass topped with whipped cream) and top it off with a piece of apple pie a la mode ($4) or chocolate cake ($4.25) made in-house. Making your own s'mores ($8.95 for 2 people, $11.95 for 4) is another option.
Just like at a diner, you can get breakfast anytime.
Lunch and dinner specials include American comfort foods like meatloaf served with mashed potatoes and corn, beef stew and pork chops. Grilled chicken topped with fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes is another special mentioned by Blasi, the chef as well as the owner.
Prices at Cousin Frankie's aren't as cheap as they were four years ago, but they are still reasonable. A coffee or juice, for instance, only costs $1.65.
Besides the all-American cuisine, there are several Italian specialties that reflect Blasi's ethnic background. For instance, Chicken Scarpariello ($14.95 with house salad) is the restaurant's signature dish. Since the Chicken Scarpariello wedge ($6.95) was dubbed Blasi's favorite when he opened Cousin Frankie's #1 four years ago and I had never sampled the dish, I made a point of it this time around. As with other dishes at the restaurant t, the portion was huge: many chunks of tender boneless chicken in a tangy sauce made with hot and sweet peppers and a binder I couldn't quite identify. It is served mixed with penne or over mashed potatoes, the latter being my choice. Spicy but not overwhelming, this dish, which fed two and then some, lived up to its signature designation. Port Chester native Anthony Delfino, who co-ownsAl Dente in Harrison, taught Blasi how to make it years ago.
Chicken Marsala ($14.95), Parmigiana ($13.95) or Francese ($14.95), Shrimp Scampi ($15.95), fried or sautéed calamari over penne pasta with hot or sweet marinara sauce ($14.95) plus 10 pasta dishes ($8.95-$13.95), all served with a house salad, are among the other Italian offerings.
Besides the Chicken Scarpariello, "we are getting known for our large pancakes ($4.50)," Blasi said, and "stuffed French toast ($6.25) is a big item." Burgers are the biggest sellers, however, with the Philly steak stuffed cheeseburger (2 hamburgers stuffed with sliced top round and sautéed onions and peppers topped with mozzarella cheese at $8.95) topping the burger list.
The stuffed French toast, a carryover from Cousin Frankie's #1, brought six triangles of egg-battered challah bread arranged around a mound of cheesecake filling, sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with strawberries and dollops of fresh whipped cream. The bread is surprisingly light, but the whole concoction is sweet and filling. There's definitely no need for syrup. The good part is that you can eat as much or as little of the filling as you like and call it quits when you get full.
Assorted Panini ($6.95-$7.95), 10 salads ($5.75-$7.50), chicken and seafood dinner entrées, the pasta dishes and even a few steaks round out the menu. The California salad ($7.25) of mixed greens, sliced turkey, sliced apples, whole walnuts, bacon and gorgonzola cheese tossed with balsamic vinaigrette was a satisfying choice.
A variety of house made soups of the day will be offered soon and throughout the winter. Chicken noodle, chicken vegetable, lentil and beef barley are some examples.
Beer and wine just added
Dinner hasn't picked up yet, conceded Blasi, because "I was so established with breakfast and lunch." However, every day he gets a larger dinner crowd. "That's one area I would like to concentrate on," he said.
"We just got our beer and wine license last week," Blasi said, so that should help. For now wine is offered by the glass, but soon Cousin Frankie's will also be selling bottles, nothing too expensive. For now there is bottled beer, but a tap will arrive soon to allow for draft beer as well.
Friendly service, plenty of parking
You couldn't find a nicer family than the Blasis. When he's not in the kitchen, Frank greets his customers personally and makes them feel welcome. His wife Maria, who Frank calls "my partner in everything," has her own job in direct marketing but also does the bookwork for the restaurant. His two daughters waitress from time to time, especially his 16-year-old who works a couple nights a week and Saturday mornings. During my recent visits, Marissa Mayo of Port Chester has been our waitress, and she couldn't be more friendly and helpful.
Blasi has plenty of experience in the restaurant business, having been employed as executive chef at Juliano's Catering in New Rochelle for 17 years before opening Cousin Frankie's #1. Before his stint at Juliano's, he owned and operated Pasta Per Te on South Regent Street in Port Chester from 1987-92. It is now Ferraro's Pizza & Pasta.
Cousin Frankie's is open seven days: Monday through Saturday from 7:30 a. m. to 9:30 p. m. and Sunday from 8 a. m. to 7 p. m.
Since the restaurant is located in a municipal parking lot, finding a space is never a problem, but you do have to feed the pay station except on Sunday. You can also park at a meter on Willett Avenue.