Thursday, March 12, 2009
EDIT 3/14/09: I got so caught up in reliving my gnocchi and chicken experience that I forgot probably the most important detail of the evening. An early '90s hip hop set was played for most of the meal. Mass Appeal, I Got Cha Opin remix, and a bunch of other treats courtesy of the female bartender's ipod. This meal was too good to be true.
One of life's joys is eating at a spot you had basically no idea about and leaving happier than a pig in shit. That might not be a great analogy when dealing with food, but if you picture some fat little piggys wading in a pool of mud and dung, squealing with joy and glee, then you can understand. That was me, just a little more civilized and cleaner. And the chicken. Please see above. I've never had better roasted chicken anywhere.
Both times I ate at Lil' Frankie's, it was Plan B. Plan A was Otto, Batali's pizzeria on 5th and 8th. The place was either booked or packed, so with heads down after defeat we trekked east. To the east my brother, to the east my brother. Located on 1st Ave. just north of 1st Street and Houston, you are smack dab in the middle of coolness. Young cool weirdos run amok, but that didn't stop me. The place was packed both times and there's always a traffic jam in the front. The entrance is really narrow and until about 10 ft. in you finally have a pocket of space. On the first visit they wouldn't seat our party of 7 until everybody was accounted for. It is what it is. Just gave me more time to get sauced off some pints of Moretti and bottles of Peroni.
The restaurant is broken into 3 separate areas. The bar area where you walk in has 2 seaters lined against the wall to your left and tables towards the back right. This is the cramped area. I had the pleasure of sitting at the nearest 2-seater to the door last time I was there and the bumps continued all meal. Sometimes you pay a price to get down with the get down. Let me assure you that it's worth it.
Lil' Frankie's inhabits what looks like was originally 2 separate stores. As mentioned, the entrance leads you into the bar dining room. There is a door to the left that gives you the option of a room towards the 1st Ave. side which contains close to 8 tables or a room towards the back which seats another 10 tables or so and I believe has an outdoor garden. They sat us at the table against the window on the 1st Ave. side. It was a squeeze, but once the food came out all worries were forgotten. Plus you get the opportunity to glance at more EV weirdos. I mean that with all admiration.
The beauty of a large party is that you can order mad shit. So we did. We sparked it with an antipasti plate including various charcuterie, roasted eggplant, tomato, beets, broccoli, cheeses, beans, etc. I'm not well versed on the pork products but I think there was some prosciutto, mortadella, and some really red meat. It was both a proper introduction to the meal and Lil' Frankie's. Simple, delicious, to the point.
Next up was a special of mussels in a spicy tomato broth. Unbelievable. Maybe because I'm so used to the typical white wine/garlic preparation, but these were banging. And I prefer not using that word. Packed with flavor. Sweet acidity with some spice kick. The mussels were cooked just right, none like rubber. There was a huge chunk of bread sitting under the mussels that sopped up the sauce. Once the mussels were done I couldn't stop eating the bread. I was fully aware that the meal had just begun and I was risking early fat pig status, but I couldn't stop. Even if this exact dish isn't offered, go in on the mussels.
The perfunctory fried calamari came next. I don't mean that with any contempt, but when eating Italian, you need that fried calamah. Very light batter (both color and feel) with some pepper flakes added to the mix to liven it up. Mostly rings, hardly any of those little aliens. Very good.
I refer to the place as Lil' Frankie's, but the official name is Lil' Frankie's Pizza. I'm trying to save syllables in this recession. Thing is, I didn't care too much about the pizza. After seeing the menu, I was more interested in the homemade pastas and various other dishes. That said, pizza had to be ordered. On the first visit we ordered the Margarita- typical cheese and sauce with basil, a sausage pie (photo above), and a special pie with mushrooms and onion, prepared in a wood burning oven. All were good and enjoyable, but we might have ordered too many. At visit # 2 a special goat cheese pizza was ordered consisting of roasted eggplant, roasted peppers, goat cheese and arugula. I'll start by saying it was very good, different from what I'm used to, and the goat cheese was way tamer than expected. Sweet in fact. However I didn't read the eggplant part and I'm allergic so I had to spend time ripping all the pieces off. I take full blame for that. The pizza came covered in a huge bed of arugula, which didn't seem all too necessary. Frankie's pizza reminded me of Zero Otto Nove's primarily in look and feel. And I swear buy that shit, at times not giving other spots a try. I'm not saying that occurred, because I was into it, but I'm jaded. I'm a believer that a pizza isn't necessary here.
Now we get into the pasta dishes. My wheelhouse. Where all the praise and glory gets extolled upon Frankie. Whatever the special pastas are of the day- order them. Both trips the specials were ON POINT. A homemade gnocchi in a tomato sauce. A roasted red pepper gnocchi baked in a cheese sauce, similar to alfredo. Spinach and cheese ravioli. Rigatoni in a bolognese sauce. Stachiatelli with wild mushrooms (above). The stachiatelli, akin to fettuccine and linguine, was top notch. Fresh pasta dressed simply in some cheese and herbs with a generous portion of a variety of shrooms. Savory and earthy with a touch of salt. The type of shit I can eat all day.
The gnocchi deserve their own paragraph. Shit, they should get their own post. These things amazed me. And still do. My whole life gnocchi has been firm and chewy. Here they are soft and velvety, without compromising their shape or richness. I'm smitten. Gnocchi will never be the same. The first trip had them served in a light sweet marinara sauce. Because the party was so big, I kept my eye on them making sure somebody wouldn't get slick. I was disappointed when these weren't offered the second time there, but no worries. The replacement was on the same level- a roasted red pepper version baked in a cheese sauce. Wow. Talk about rich. Thinking about them gets me full. The sweetness of the red pepper complemented the saltyness of the cheese and the sparks flew. With 2 people and a bunch of other dishes this is a tough dish to conquer. I would probably pass on the pizza if it gave me more quality time with the gnocchi.
We're doubling up on pics today. Yeah, that's right. It topped the post and it will finish it. Lately I've been into full circle. As if I didn't gush enough over the gnocchi, I'm about to be the biggest fanboy of chicken you've ever seen. When my boy ordered the chicken the first time I was kind of surprised. I even questioned his motives. Between all the apps, pizza, and pasta, it seemed a bit superfluous. I would like to take this time to apologize for those thoughts. D, you're a visionary and I'll never doubt your skills again. The dish is simple. Wood roasted chicken with lemon, capers, and sage, served with extra virgin olive oil mashed potatoes. But as my pops says, fuck da potatoes (FDP)- it's chicken time. The chicken was cooked perfectly. A crisp outer layer covering the moistest chicken I've ever had. How the fuck do they do it? Some ancient Italian secret. Golden brown skin. Not typically into capers, however their extra saltiness effectively balanced out the lemon and sage. I'm not alone in this zealotry. I was talking to my boy Wil at Nike Mercer and when I mentioned this place, the first thing he mentioned was the chicken. Maybe it's a sneakerhead thing. Or real just recognize real.
Some desserts were ordered but I forget how they tasted. Good I'm sure. But after all that food how could you eat anymore. I know they have a pretty decent and affordable wine selection. I stick to the beers and the pints of Moretti more than sufficed. They have some other hard to find brews on tap, all for $6 a pint. Lil' Frankie's is affordable (CASH ONLY). Appetizers cost around $12 for seafood, with the antipasto ranging from $15 to $25 depending on size (we ordered the largest). Pizzas vary from $9 to $15 and entrees and pastas range from $12 to $19. I didn't see any dishes exceed $20, certain specials might be the exception.
Lil' Frankie's knows what they're doing. There's no showboating here. Just basics. The dishes are simple because the ingredients and preparation speak for themselves. No need to dress it up when it's fly the way it is. A girl doesn't need make-up when she's beautiful. The make-up might even distract you from the innate beauty. That's how they work it here. What you see is what you get, just with tremendous flavor and quality.
Lil' Frankie's Pizzeria
19 1st Ave. between 1st & 2nd Sts.
New York, NY 10003
Mon - Thu- 11am - 2am
Fri - Sat- 11am - 4am
Sat- 10:30am - 4am
Sun- 10:30am - 2am
Subway- F/V to 2nd Ave. LES stop on Houston St. and walk one block up 1st Ave., 6 train to Bleeker and walk several blocks east