I Elect Frank's

When I head up to points north from my home in Tioga County, I take a shortcut to Rt. 81 via Rt. 26, which leads me from Endicott through Maine to Whitney Point. Most days, it’s a vast improvement over taking 17 to 81 through Binghamton, unless there are Sunday drivers out along this bucolic stretch, in which case it’s a tedious drive. But there are some interesting things to look at – a few cute homes near the turn-off to the airport, the Country Wagon farm stand, and the old one-room school house in Maine. But overall, it’s a pretty, but dull stretch. So when a pizza place and Italian restaurant began renovating a couple of disheveled, run-down store fronts in Maine a few years back, I paid attention. This space eventually became Frank’s Italian Restaurant, and since it opened, I’ve heard good things. As it’s out of the way, and I’m not usually stopping to eat just a few miles from my house on the way to Watertown, I just hadn’t had a chance to get there…until recently, when Melinda and I made a concerted effort to pay it a visit.

While the outside of Frank’s is very small town Upstate, a bit muddy, and very close to the road, the inside is totally charming and warm: think Tuscan parlor chic. There were roughly one million specials rattled off by our waitress, most notable of which were the frutte del mar, which I’ve heard good things about, and braciole, which I gave serious consideration to before settling on my entrée. One special we did go for was a bruschetta sampler, which was simply fabulous. Our favorite among the trio, which included classic tomato and a mascarpone and jam, was the eggplant and ricotta. On the far right in the photo, below, the well-seasoned eggplant was paper thin and fried crispy, sitting on a thin layer of earthy, creamy, smooth ricotta cheese atop crisp Italian bread. This should be on the regular menu, and also, I need an elf to follow me around all day preparing these freshly every few minutes and placing them directly in my mouth.

We both ordered crumbly blue cheese and Italian dressing on our salads, which is something my parents did my entire life, but until finally acquiring the taste for blue cheese somewhere around the age of 25, I never appreciated. Frank’s salad is scrumptious, with perky, crunchy spring mix, a very creamy blue cheese, and a brightly acidic but still somehow creamy dressing.

I had also heard positive reviews of Frank’s lasagna, which is convenient, because Melinda is a lasagna hound of the highest order. The slab of comfort food was extremely flavorful, unlike so many muddled loaves of pasta, meat sauce, and bland cheese served in the Tier. That’s owing to high quality ingredients, starting with the ricotta, which was just as well utilized here as it had been on the bruschetta, leant the casserole a marked richness, and anchored the bright red sauce and homey meat mixture. This lasagna was very well balanced and never sank into the heavy, insipid space that befalls most restaurant lasagnas.

Wouldn't "Slab of Lasagna" be a great name for a wedding band?

I ordered the gnocchi with pesto, and ignored Big Hungry Dan’s recommendation to get the sauce on the side. I see what he meant about how much sauce they add, but I didn’t mind it. This dish was a bit one-note, as a plate full of pesto can be, but I loved how obviously freshly made, in-house, the pesto was, as well as how very tiny the gnocchi were. They were not fluffy like larger, potato-based gnocchi, but tender and delicious. I kind of wish I had ordered shrimp or something on this to break up all the pesto, but for what it was, I liked it. In the sauce, I could taste the pine nuts and the cheese, but they didn’t overwhelm the more delicate basil and olive oil flavors. The balance was remarkable and the freshness was undeniable:

I’m about 90 percent sure Frank’s is using commercially purchased desserts, which is kind of a bummer, though I think our waitress said the cannoli shells are fried in-house. We went for it anyway, Melinda ordering the lemon berry mascarpone cake…

…while I chose the ultimate chocolate cake (though our waitress couldn’t tell me the difference between this and the regular chocolate cake). Melinda’s choice was moist and tart, with enough spice to remind me of a lemony coffee cake. Mine was delicious and rich, also moist, but lacking any stand-out flavor beyond deep, dark chocolate. A pastry chef would be a happy addition to the Frank’s staff.

I’ve heard people say Frank’s is the best Italian restaurant in the Southern Tier. I’m not ready to take that crown away from Oaks Inn yet, especially since they’ve just renovated, and of course, I have a special place in my heart for Tony’s. Melinda and I gave Frank’s a seven on the BHS scale, which is above average without blowing us away. This meal was yummy, solid, fresh, and filling, but there were few dazzling moments, you know? Head to Frank’s when you have people with you who like old school Italian American flare and a few who want to try new things. It has that good mix of tradition and contemporary cuisine. But don’t expect to be blown away by its modern, eclectic, Milanese fare or anything. Although really, is modern eclectic really happening anywhere around here? Not so much.

What are all my Big Hungries doing with their falls? I do hope you got out and rocked the vote yesterday, and that you’ve sampled some kind of pumpkin treat lately. I made my (by way of Williams Sonoma) famous pumpkin bars last weekend and brought some in to work to indulge my colleagues on Monday. I also cooked up some yummies from Pinterest on Saturday, loving both the broccoli salad and the basil roasted shrimp, which I served over long grain white rice I cooked in chicken stock with some of the extra basil butter from the shrimps. I like to use shrimps because I find that foreigners always say that instead of recognizing our odd singular-but-plural words, and it makes me feel exotic. Anyway, if you want to make either of those recipes, you can find them on my Something Yummy This Way Comes board on Pinterest. My Pinterest account is linked over in the left-hand nav.

I’ve had some conversations this week with local food people about the importance of supporting local businesses. Whether you voted red or blue yesterday, one of the best ways to bolster our limping economy is to patronize small, locally-owned restaurants. Baked Euphoria Café, which opened a few months ago on Washington Ave in Endicott, no doubt counted on a robust lunch service from the thousands of workers at the Huron campus, but now they’re struggling to keep their doors open. If more of us chose to eat local rather than at national chains, we would pump our all-important discretionary dollars into our local economy, and probably get a better meal in exchange. So eat out this week friends, and keep it local. It’s one of the best ways to support your community! My hunger is big; my personality is bigger!

Note: In other local food news, Chipotle has been open in Vestal, near BU campus, for weeks, and no one told me. For shame, Big Hungries! I know this is a chain, but it's one of the better ones, and mama likes her carnitas! Also, there's a new Lebanese grill on the Vestal Parkway that I hope to try this weekend. It's getting mixed reviews online, but I'll let you know what I think. BHS loves herself some shawarma, you know.   Frank's Pizza and Restaurant on Urbanspoon  


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  2. This looks, and sounds, like such an amazing place!