FRA’s Italian Gourmet

 Beyond wonderful
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  October 29, 2009

Ever have that kind of day when you need to start your lunch with a chocolate chip cookie? If so, FRA’s is the place to do it. Granted, I’d had one of these cookies warm from the oven the week before, so I knew it would do the trick: three kinds of chips, and as large as a saucer. Our friend Bruce proclaimed it “beyond wonderful!” and promptly decided to get another to take home with him.

We were actually at FRA’s (named for previous owner Frank Algiere) to re-experience the focaccia sandwiches, with variations that run from sautéed green beans or spinach to chicken cutlets and Italian cold cuts. They are dressed up with roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella and oven-toasty when they are served with a side of garlicky ditalini and chickpeas. Our friend Pam had been hoping for the roasted zucchini and yellow squash focaccia or the asparagus one, but owners Ed and Joanne Sinclair like to have ingredients as fresh as possible, and they were out of those two possibilities.

So she settled for the green bean focaccia ($6.95) and, as I had done the week before, took half of it home for supper. The focaccia is made daily in the pizza oven, and there’s plenty of all three main ingredients. Pam did say the beans were a bit stringy, though I’m also picky about that, and in my sandwich, they had been fine.

Bill had enthused the week before about the Calabria grinder ($7.95), partly because of its array of meats — mortadella, Genoa, capicola, soppresata — and mostly because of its caramelized balsamic onions in a generous amount. The whole is doused with FRA’s dressing, a balsamic vinaigrette.

This time around, Bill chose the sausage grinder, with peppers, onions, and provolone ($7.95), and he loved the spicy Italian sausage in it, with plenty of Ed’s home-made marinara. He likes to make it with fresh plum tomatoes, and when he can’t get those, he settles for flash-frozen ones from California.

Bruce’s eggplant parmesan grinder ($6.95) had the same tasty marinara, with Joanne’s eggplant, which we all liked. Bruce also commented on the tasty sesame-sprinkled grinder roll (imported from NYC) that held the fixings.

I, meanwhile, had gone for something completely different: a small pesto pizza ($10.95), with mushrooms and both mozzarella and provolone. The thin, crispy crust, along with the terrific pesto (even pine nuts kept appearing here and there) and just enough cheese, thrilled everyone at the table, though I was the one who got the two leftover pieces for another delicious lunch.

Pizzas are sold by the slice for the midday crowd, but the cheese, Romano, or pesto pizzas are available in small and larges sizes, with an array of 14 toppings, including eggplant, meatballs, and bacon. Spaghetti or penne dinners with meatballs, eggplant parm, or chicken parm are good for eating-in or taking-out ($7.95-$9.95).

Ed varies the lunch menu for nearby workers with daily specials: one day steak-and-egg grinders; another day, wieners and oven fries. For early risers, he makes breakfast pizzas or breakfast grinders with egg, cheese, and soppresata. And he usually makes one or two kinds of soup each day, including his very tasty tomato-lentil ($3 bowl), which was published in a local church cookbook and whose recipe tipped us to the secret ingredient of powdered cloves.

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