They’d run out of lasagne by the time I got to Frankie Franks last Friday. An hour on the subway and twenty minutes trekking through the Bronx to taste the dish that cabbie Mohamed had recommended with so much enthusiasm had led to a dead end.
Of course I was disappointed. I silently cursed the cousin at the back table who’d finished off the last bit of the allegedly delicious casserole, accepted the apologies of Anthony – the short-order cook – and ordered a chili dog.
It was a decent frank, similar to one you might find at Yankee Stadium, except for the thick, house-made chili, which raised the hot dog and its grocery store bun to a higher plane. Not exactly the greatest frank of all, not quite worth a pilgrimage from Queens, but not bad if you’ve overdosed on Italian food.
“Where you goin’?” one of the cousins called out to me as I finished my frank and gathered my things, “Sit, relax, enjoy!”
I dropped my purse. He was right. Where was I going? Anthony’s cousins were whiling away the afternoon with cake and wine. Customers popped in and out of the diner, tasting potato salad at Anthony’s insistence, taking away platters of grilled chicken. Tempting smells wafted through the door from a makeshift barbecue outside, where Gary (Anthony’s childhood friend) grilled burgers and sausage. The greatest Frank of all watched over us from his perch on the wall.
The roll, he told me, came from Addeo Gennaro & Sons, a neighborhood bakery that’s been around since the 1930s. Calabria Pork Store, an artisanal butcher shop just a few doors away, was responsible for the sausage (and for all the pork products at Frankie Franks).
Given the illustrious origins of its ingredients, I wasn’t surprised when the sausage sandwich turned out to be sublime. The bread was fresh and chewy, the sausage rich but not too greasy, and the onions and peppers sauteed to crisp-tender. When you’re eating something simple like that with just two or three components, every element has to be top-notch. On that sausage sandwich, everything was.
Whatever the explanation, by the time the cousins brought me a piece of yellow cake with cream cheese frosting from Morrone Pastry Shop and insisted I have a glass of wine (also on the house), I was looking at the world through a deeply contented haze.
In the end, I walked out of the Arthur Avenue diner just as I remembered leaving so many restaurants in Italy: ravished and revived by the pleasures of la dolce vita.
Italians have a special relationship with pleasure. For them, hedonism is a natural reflex, deeply ingrained and practiced daily with effortless grace (especially around food). But I’ll admit I didn’t think that this would be as true at Frankie Franks as it is in a Roman osteria – even in the absence of Mohamed’s lasagne.
2330 Arthur Avenue – Belmont/Little Italy (Bronx)