Publication Date: Friday, July 16, 2004
(July 16, 2004)
Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! offers tasty food, large portions and pleasant service
By Dale F. Bentson
When I was growing up in rural Illinois a big treat was going to the Italian restaurant in the next village. Though our visits were infrequent -- we only went out to eat on special occasions -- the marvelous food left an indelible mark on my novice palate. It was comfort food: simply prepared, simply served, tasty and filling.
Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! reminds me of that popular country restaurant. It fits like a gastronomic glove -- comfortable, affordable and family-oriented, with good food and pleasant service. Operated by the Vittorio family for more than 40 years, the restaurant boasts a long history of community involvement through fund raisers, charities, and discounts for senior citizens and students.
Longtime employee Marian Welch summed up the restaurant's philosophy and stated the reasons for its longevity: "We make all our own dough for pizzas, serve large portions and make every order fresh. There is a good value to our restaurant."
Each weeknight a dinner special is offered at a reduced fare that includes appetizer and entree.
Antipasti is designed to whet the appetite, but here, the portions are so large that overindulgence can be a problem. Calamari Fritti ($8.95) were large, meaty hunks of semolina-crusted fried squid, served with a slightly tame horseradish cocktail sauce. The tender and succulent squid were so large I had to quarter them to consume.
Salmon crostini ($5.95) was nearly a complete meal in itself. Blended with capers, Mascarpone cheese, spinach, artichoke hearts and chopped red onion, the poached salmon had been spread on thick slices of toasted bread. The large portion was delightful and I exercised great restraint from overeating to save room for subsequent courses.
Bruschetta ($4.95) offered toasted bread topped with not-quite-ripe enough chopped tomatoes and basil. I liked the caprese ($5.95) better with its riper, sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil layered with a slightly garlicky pesto sauce. Just about all the antipasti offerings are large enough to share.
Though pasta is not house-made all the sauces are. Penne calabrese ($10.95) was delicious, with generous chunks of sweet Italian sausage sauteed with fresh mushrooms in a light tomato-cream sauce. I was most partial to this platter-sized pasta dish. The Vittorio family operates a meat-processing plant in addition to several restaurants. Most of the meat used at Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! is from its sister business.
Manicotti ($9.95) were traditional Italian-style crepes stuffed with herbed ricotta, then topped with creamy pesto, bechamel (white cream) and marinara sauces -- the red, white and green of the Italian flag. A tad funky, but the flavor was good and my companion demolished her plate.
Veal parmigiana ($12.50) featured lightly breaded, thin veal slices flamed with sweet Marsala wine, layered with marinara sauce and mozzarella. The meat was tender and flavorful under its blanket of red tomato sauce. The dish was completed with spaghetti topped with bolognese sauce and fresh spinach.
Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! is famous for its pizza. Peek into the open kitchen and you will see the dough being tossed and kneaded to the desired consistency. This is New York-style, thick-crusted pizza pie, which allows for weightier toppings, such as chunky sausage, chicken, salami, pepperoni and ham.
The restaurant offers three pizza sizes: 12", 14" and 16". The ingredients are cut thick and piled high. A special rack is even placed on the table to accommodate the pizza's size and weight. Additional ingredients can be ordered for a nominal fee.
New York-style pizza ($12.50/$14.50/$17.50) was laden with sweet, non-greasy Italian sausage and fresh button mushrooms. The tasty crust was baked to a doughy russet brown. The large chunks of meat and mushrooms gave the pizza an even bulkier appearance.
Johnnie's Favorite ($15.50/$18.50/$21.50) was a combination of pesto, roasted chicken, roasted red bell pepper, artichoke, black olive, tomato and ricotta. Jam-packed with intriguing flavors, this was my favorite pizza. Each ingredient retained its own distinctive flavor, rather than being melded into one unified taste, which happens all too often with pizza toppings.
The family atmosphere of Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! is personified by its wait staff. On each of my visits the waitresses were exceptionally friendly, helpful and attentive. Busboys were ever present to refill glasses and replenish silverware without being overly intrusive. The staff seemed almost hurt that we didn't want to take every remaining morsel home in doggie bags.
I was not, however, fond of any of the desserts I tried. Tiramisu ($5.25) contained a dearth of ladyfingers and an overabundance of Mascarpone cream. The overwhelming rum flavor masked whatever else was in the gooey dish. The New York cheesecake ($4) had little to distinguish it, other than a lot of calories. My companion pushed it away after two bites.
The house-made carrot cake ($4.50) was dense and ponderous, rather than light and airy, which is what I wanted after a heavy meal. I could only manage one or two forkfuls. To make matters worse, the cake was adrift in a pool of what tasted like Hershey's chocolate syrup -- most unpleasant.
The wine list is short, but there a few very well-priced Chiantis, such as the Nozzole Riserva at $28 and the Ruffino Riserva Ducale at $38. The list has a smattering of most California varietals. Most wines are available by the glass. Corkage fee is $10 if you choose to bring something special.
Embedded in the community, I can understand why this restaurant has been around for nearly half a century. With tiny candles and red-checkered tablecloths lining booths and tables, the homespun atmosphere is cozy, yet not overly quaint. There are separate dining rooms that keep the noise level to a minimum.
Service is considerate and competent, food portions are large and tasty and the kitchen is prompt. From my perspective, Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too! is reminiscent of another era.
Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi Too!
939 W. El Camino Real
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m.-12 a.m.; Fri. 11 a.m.-1 a.m.;
Sat. 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m.; Sun. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.
Credit cards: yes
Alcohol: beer and wine
Children: high chairs
Outdoor dining: no
Party and banquet facilities: private room
Take out: yes
Noise level: moderate
Bathroom cleanliness: excellent
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