12/27/2013 5:12:00 PM Frankie's gone, but Frankie & Louie's neighborhood eatery still going strong
Co-owner and pastry chef Louis Dattilo drizzles extra chocolate onto a chocolate mousse cake he just made for serving at Frankie & Louie’s. He also makes special occasion cakes in all shapes and sizes.
JANANNE ABEL|WESTMORE NEWS
Co-owner Kevin “KJ” Bambara slices a pizza behind the takeout counter at Frankie & Louie’s Pizzeria and Restaurant in Port Chester.
When I want a good Italian meal and friendly service in a casual setting, a few Port Chester restaurants come to mind. One of them is Frankie & Louie's Pizzeria and Restaurant at 414 Willett Ave.
When I think of Frankie & Louie's, consistency comes to mind-their superb lasagna, savory house salad with gorgonzola cheese, fantastic warm, crunchy bread with sesame seeds, huge portions, reasonable prices and scrumptious homemade desserts.
It's a wonderful, family-oriented neighborhood Italian eatery that continues to keep up its appearance where the staff makes you feel at home. "We try to be conscious of who we cater to-keeping it affordable for the families," said co-owner Kevin "KJ" Bambara of Port Chester.
Frankie & Louie's opened on May 16, 2001 when the Dattilo cousins, who hailed from a family of Italian restaurateurs, took over the former Luigi's Restaurant & Pizza. In 2005, Frankie decided to go off on his own, but the restaurant hasn't missed a beat since then. Bambara, who had been working the counter and making pizza since 2002 when he was in high school, bought out Frankie's half of the partnership, and the restaurant continued sailing along.
"I started as an after school job," said Bambara. "I just fell in love with the business itself." Although it has its ups and downs, "there's nothing else I'd rather do."
After high school, Bambara, 28, went to the School of Visual Arts and hated it, switching to the Art Institute of New York's culinary program instead. When Frankie left, Bambara took over his role making the pizzas and running the front end of the restaurant while Louie Dattilo, 44, of Mamaroneck continued his part as chef in charge of the kitchen.
Dattilo worked at Sal's Pizzeria in Mamaroneck, owned by his uncle, for 13 years before pairing up with Frankie to create Frankie & Louie's.
Besides creating the menu and a weekly array of weekend specials, Louie, who was trained at the New York Restaurant School in New York City, is also a pastry chef. He makes many of the desserts-a luscious 3-layer chocolate mousse cake, cannoli cake, strawberry tres leches cake and a super light tiramisu. These are the main desserts Dattilo puts into the mix, buying the banana coconut cake, pumpkin cheesecake and a few others.
Louie also gets creative with special occasion cakes, decorating them with all sorts of candies and creams to create the desired effect.
He showed me photographs of a sheet cake depicting an intricate baseball field, a beautiful 3-tier cake with green fondant icing and lovely Irish decorations and a dreamy cake in the shape of a princess for a first birthday.
"I can pretty much do anything," Dattilo said.
The price of the cakes varies from $45 for a regular 10" sheet cake to $175 for the one shaped like a princess. They can be consumed at the restaurant or purchased to be eaten elsewhere.
"It's 50/50 here, so we basically help each other out," said Bambara. "Louie focuses on the baking aspect. We're both here an equal amount of time."
Extensive menu and many weekend specials
Besides an extensive menu featuring appetizers, salads, soups, wraps, wedges, burgers, pasta; small, large and Sicilian pizza; calzones and rolls, gourmet pizza in three sizes; veal, chicken and seafood entrées to eat in or take out, special deals are offered in the dining room Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Wednesday is Family Style Night when for $28.95 a family of four can have a choice of about 25 entrées including chicken, veal and a variety of pastas with salad or pasta for $28.95. Thursday is Ravioli Night when seven different ravioli recipes are on the menu with salad for $12.95. Pasta Madness overcomes the restaurant on Sundays when there is a choice of six pastas plus salad for $12.95.
In addition, on Friday through Sunday nights Frankie & Louie's makes sure regular customers don't get bored by offering numerous weekend specials: three appetizers/salads, three pasta dishes and about six or seven entrées.
"I go to the market and see what they have and will go around that," said Dattilo. "Certain fish I know we sell a lot, so if they are good, I'll always get them." Last weekend's specials included Red Snapper Livornese ($23) and Chilean Sea Bass ($24), for instance, as well as a chicken ($16), veal ($20), New York strip steak ($24) and a center cut pork chop stuffed with prosciutto, spinach and mozzarella ($21).
While I might go into Frankie & Louie's planning on having the lasagna, if a special strikes my fancy, I might very well switch to that. Often a creative pasta dish will pique my interest, but sometimes a chicken or fish.
All entrées on the special or regular menus come with house salad or pasta with tomato sauce, marinara sauce or garlic and oil.
Popular entrées include Penne all Vodka ($12.50), Penne alla Vodka Chicken Parmigiana ($15.50) and Chicken Scarpariello ($16.50), the latter made with cherry peppers and sausage in a white wine and lemon sauce. Bambara said his favorite dish is Chicken Francese ($15.50) while Dattilo prefers the Chicken Scarp.
The Penne alla Vodka Chicken Parmigiana features chicken cutlet cut in pieces, mixed with penne and vodka sauce and topped with melted mozzarella like baked ziti. I wouldn't have thought to order this dish, but after one sample, it is now on my radar. More substantial than straight Penne alla Vodka, it is also more satisfying, a real comfort food.
The lunch menu, served from 11 a. m. to 3 p. m., is larger than the dinner menu. It includes appetizers, salads, soups, personal pizzas ($8.45 for lasagna to $10.45 for cheeseburger or Frankie & Louie's special), wedges ($6.95 for meatball to $8.95 for Veal Parmigiana), wraps ($6.95 for grilled chicken salad to $7.95 for Buffalo chicken, lettuce, tomato, mozzarella with bleu cheese dressing), burgers ($8.95 for a hamburger wedge to $10.95 for a gorgonzola burger, all with fries), lots of pasta ($5 for spaghetti with garlic and oil to $9.95 for homemade lasagna) and seven entrées ($8.95 for Eggplant Parmigiana to $13.95 for Shrimp Parmigiana).
The Veal Parmigiana wedge ($8.95), Eggplant Parmigiana wedge ($7.50), eggplant, tomato and mozzarella wrap ($6.95) and 3 cheese personal pizza ($8.45) were all equally enjoyed by our office staff last week. The sandwiches were large and tasty, the pizza extra cheesy with a thin, crispy crust.
Dinner for four
On a recent Saturday night at Frankie & Louie's, our party of four had a complete meal, including appetizers, wine, beer, dessert and coffee and our check came to $158.06.
Before our meal we were presented with a plate of their complimentary bruschetta-an Italian treat of chopped tomatoes, onion, basil and olive oil on thin slices of toasted garlic bread, enough for each member of our party to have two.
We shared the Clams Oreganata ($8.50) which brought eight pieces in the shell with bread crumbs. They were good but not the best I've ever tasted, a little saucier than I like.
Next came a basket of their delicious warm, crunchy bread with sesame seeds, always perfectly cooked, from Zaro's Bakery in the Bronx. It is probably the best bread served at any restaurant in Port Chester.
The Pasta & Fagioli soup ($4.95), an Italian favorite my husband and I both relish, had a rich tomato base filled with small pasta and white cannellini beans. My only complaint: it could have been hotter.
Their version of the Bocconcini Salad ($10.95) brought a good-sized arugula salad with roasted red peppers, red onions, black olives and cubes of fresh mozzarella tossed with a little too much oil and vinegar dressing.
With our meal we ordered a half carafe of red wine ($14)- their house red is a perfectly satisfactory Montepulciano chianti and merlot blend which is also served by the glass ($8). The house white is a Rocca Bianca pinot grigio from Italy which I haven't tried. One in our party ordered a beer which came in a frosted mug from the freezer which was a big hit. You don't often see that anymore. There's only house wine and bottled beer at Frankie & Louie's which is not exotic but perfectly adequate for a neighborhood eatery where the food and hospitality are #1 and the drink secondary.
My choice for entrée was the chicken tossed with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts in a white wine sauce ($16), a special, which consisted of large chunks of chicken in a delicate sauce-a tremendous portion that provided at least one more meal.
My husband had the veal scallopini topped with Portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers and melted mozzarella in a brown sauce ($20), another special, which he loved.
One of our guests went with the spaghetti with meat sauce ($11.95), which brought lots of meaty tomato sauce heaped over a tremendous portion of spaghetti. Frankie & Louie's meat sauce, which I had previously over gnocchi, is excellent, just like their homemade meat lasagna ($10.95), my husband's and my favorite dish at Frankie & Louie's, and their tomato sauce in general. It's exceptional. Generally we split one piece of lasagna and a house salad with gorgonzola cheese and we're happy.
Our other guest had the Veal Parmigiana ($17.95) which he raved about.
With each entrée came a side of penne, and I chose to top it with their yummy garlic and oil sauce.
The pasta is delivered three times a week from Mercurio's, the fresh pasta place in Mamaroneck. "Sometimes I make my own filling and they will put it all together for me," said Louis.
For dessert (all $6.95), the light as air tiramisu was the favorite and, not surprisingly, as I would find out later it was the only one made in-house by Louis. The carrot cake was good but a little dry and the pumpkin cheesecake only so-so. Ask what's made on-premises and order that if you want perfection.
Three coffees ($2 each) and a cappuccino ($5.50) topped off a satisfying meal.
Our waitress, who is experienced but relatively new to Frankie & Louie's, was friendly and helpful, but it would be difficult to top the service of longtime waitress Cindy Lovaglio who has been there "since we bought the place," said Dattilo. "She came with the place." Cindy said she's been there 13 years and added: "I'm a fixture." After a period when she only worked weekends, she's now back at Frankie & Louie's full-time.
As you enter Frankie & Louie's, on your right is what was originally a spouting ceramic fountain and stone wishing well Frankie installed. It later became an aquarium for large turtles which get a lot of attention from customers. "They can't believe they're real," said Al Pistillo of Port Chester, who have been delivering food for the restaurant for seven years. There's a $1 delivery charge per order.
The pizza/takeout area features Italian tile and stucco, a few small tables and the takeout counter as well as a print of the Coliseum on the wall. For Christmas this area is decorated with a wreath, poinsettias and candy canes. You enter the dining room through a magenta curtain that is pulled back. Just after the Super Bowl last year, a new ceramic tile floor that looks like wood was installed in the dining room to replace the carpeting which, said Louis, "was always getting dirty. This way we mop it nice."
A few years ago, new shiny wood tables and chairs seating 50 were installed in the dining room, negating the need for tablecloths. "It's a cleaner look," said Louis. There are still cloth napkins, now in black, which match the black window treatment around the blinds at the two windows facing the street.
Walls are gold stucco on top with white Italian tile underneath and a row of small red bricks in between. Mirrors cover one wall, prints of Venice and other Italian scenes decorate another and Corinthian columns flank the doorway. Ceiling fans keep the air moving in the warmer weather.
Hours, parking and no more outdoor eating
Hours are 11 a. m. to 10 p. m. seven days a week.
There is limited parking in a small lot behind the restaurant. Otherwise it is on the street.
Frankie & Louie's was one of the first restaurants to have sidewalk dining when the village made a law encouraging it more than a decade ago. They had it annually until two years ago when new regulations made it impossible to provide enough room on the sidewalk for pedestrians when there were tables outside.
"The village doesn't count the brick pavers as a place you can walk," said Dattilo. "I might have to build something (like a deck). That's the only thing that would be feasible. It is the only possible solution."