Trattoria da Franco
By Andrew Kahn
“This menu is just a suggestion. Do not hesitate to ask for your favorite dish. We would be happy to prepare it for you.” This simple statement at the top of Trattoria da Franco’s menu attempts to promises an authentic Italian culinary experience to every single patron.
From the outside, the restaurant resembles a welcoming home. A wood cutout of the man himself, Franco Abruzzetti, ushers potential patrons to give the small restaurant in an Old Town townhouse a chance. Christmas lights wind around the front and remain there, regardless of season. Potted ferns line the stairs up to the front door, which is closed to keep in the warmth but opens easily.
Inside, the restaurant is divided into two parts. To the right is the primary dining room busy with conversation and radiating warmth. To the left, however, is the room reserved for the off chance that the right side is filled.
Unfortunately tonight, the right side was full. The waiter directs us to the left side, though his thick Eastern European accent makes him hard to understand. The room was completely empty and extremely cold. The waiter attempted to turn on the small fireplace for warmth but he was unable to since it had not been used since the year before. The restaurant’s website states that the building is around 300 years old. This explains the buildings inability to retain heat. After borrowing my father’s coat, I look through the menu.
The three-page menu has just the right amount of offerings. The authentic Italian dishes have enough variety to appeal to any cravings. Most dishes were written in their Italian name and then described in English. The menu looks like it has been around for a while and maybe even as long as the twenty-five year old restaurant.
The waiter comes over and brings a loaf of freshly cooked bread and a dish of high quality olive oil with grated basil. The high quality olive oil enhanced the already delicious bread.
Pictures on the wall depict Italian people and landscapes. Posters in Italian advertise a number of events, namely opera concerts. Trattoria da Franco has a strong connection with opera. The majority of reviews of the restaurant strongly encourage people to come on the fourth Sunday of each month for opera night. The combination of Italian cuisine with Italian opera creates the perfect culinary experience.
When the waiter comes to take our order, my dad asks if Franco is still the chef and owner. The waiter replies, “of course” but follows up that he is off tonight and his son, Max Abruzzetti, is head chef tonight. The restaurant has been in the family for twenty-five years and does not look like it will be changing owners any time soon.
When the appetizers arrive, the small portion of my Caesar salad surprises me. Compared with the appetizers at Primo’s and Southside 815, my starter looks miniature. However, after I taste the Caesar salad, I completely forget the size of the appetizer in front of me. The homemade Caesar dressing tastes fresh and the hint of anchovies brings flavor to the dish. I try to savor the few bites I have, but within a few minutes the plate in front of me is void of food.
The entrees were another story entirely. The portion sizes were perfect, the tastes were amazing and the freshness was superb. By recommendation of my father and the waiter, I order the fettuccine carbonara. Immediately, the taste of the pasta itself amazes me. The restaurant’s website states that they make their own fresh pasta everyday. I honestly have not had pasta as delicious as Trattoria da Franco’s since my time spent in Italy a few summers ago. In addition to the pasta, the smokey, grilled bacon adds great flavor to the dish. Arguably the most important part of the fettuccine carbonara, the consistency is perfect. Instead of a creamy glob of pasta, the dish is not excessively creamy and instead is held together by the egg and Parmesan cheese.
My mother cannot stop raving about her dish either. Her sautéed Portobello mushrooms with spinach is excellent. The dish is not too oily; it does not overwhelm the natural tastes of the fresh Portobello or spinach. The mushrooms cut like meat; the tender Portobello are cooked to perfection and taste rich and flavorful.
While the atmosphere leaves something to be desired, the food more than makes up for it. Trattoria da Franco is an authentic Italian restaurant, which successfully immerses one’s taste buds in Italian cuisine.