When Franny's opened a few years ago it caused a happy stir among my Slow Food devotee-CSA-belonging-locally-eating foodie friends. On paper, it was the perfect spot: brick-oven pizza, locally-sourced products, seasonal menus, Gruppy owners, the works. I've eaten there a handful of times over since Franny's opened, and although I want to love it, it's never really clicked for me.
The problem has never been the pizza; the pizza is fantastic - Neapolitan in style, thin, chewy crust fired in the wood-burning oven, fresh toppings, accented with (as opposed to smothered in) cheese and olive oil. I repeat..the pizza is FANTASTIC.
But. The fantastic pizza usually meant waiting close to an hour, due to Franny's popularity and no-reservations policy. The service I've received has varied from cold to surly, the room is crowded and the wine list, although nicely showcasing Italian wines, can feel a little pricey for what is, at the end of the day, a pizzeria.
The last time my husband and I went to Franny's together, we waited an hour near the bar, we paid $15 for a glass of chardonnay (our bad for not checking the wine list for prices; I asked for a glass of chardonnay - trying to get a drink quickly, shouting over the crowd at the bar - and was shocked when that one glass came to $15), were finally shown to our table, which was adjacent to the crowded bar, squeezed into the cramped space directly behind the hostess stand, in the middle of patrons waiting for their tables. We asked if it was possible to wait for the next available table or a spot at the bar, the hostess said, NO and walked away from us, so we in turn walked away from Franny's.
I've been back with friends since that experience, but not recently. Still, the memory of the utterly FANTASTIC pizza lingered, and on Saturday afternoon we found ourselves in the North Slope around 5pm. I suggested we walk over and see what time Franny's opened, and luck was with us -- Franny's is now open for lunch, which meant that the kitchen was open and there were tables available. We sat down to a dining room dotted with young hipster couples and their infants (apparently 5pm is foodie happy hour among the Bugaboo set), and realized that once again, the late lunch would prove to be key in allowing us to sample and savor food at some of our favorite (but popular) restaurants.
I started with the arugula salad and a glass of Italian chardonnay, from the Piemonte region. The wine was crisp and minerally, and perfectly picked up the peppery, slightly bitter flavor of the tender greens. The salad was literally just a heaping plate of baby arugula, dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, and it was a dish I could have eaten indefinitely -- I didn't want it to end. The simple salad was all about the arugula, with minimal fuss and maximum flavor. Kevin started with a Brooklyn Cocktail (Maker's Mark, Sweet Vermouth and fresh lemon sour -- good but "too girly" according to Kevin) and the cabbage and apple salad, which featured cubes of crispy pancetta and slivers of red onion, tossed in a tangy red-wine vinegar dressing -- hearty without being filling, bright and crisp and fresh -- I'm attempting to re-create it tonight, alongside a parsnip and apple soup.
Our pizzas arrived bubbling and charred -- I had the Tomato and Provolone Piccante with Wood-Roasted Onions, which was perfection. The tomatoes were sweet but not too sugary or too acidic, the salty cheese was sprinkled lightly over the sauce, and big, sweet spirals of onion gave nice heft to the pie. Kevin had the Tomato and Mozzarella with House-Made Sausage and Pickled Hot Peppers -- the sausage is heavy on the fennel (which we both love) and the mozzarella was creamy but not excessive...his pizza was heartier than mine, but also a knock out. I had a glass of an Italian red which the waitress likened to a Syrah (the grape started with an 'a' but I cannot remember the variety; I believe it was from the Campania region?) and Kevin had a local Six Pointe Craft ale.
We somehow felt like we still had room left for dessert; I had a slice of almond cake and Kevin had a cannoli. The almond cake was spongier than I anticipated, and I would have preferred a more pound-cake-like texture, but it was still nutty and mild and right up my alley. The cannoli was impressive - the cream filling had nice lemon flavor and there were heaps of crushed pistachios over the entire (decadent) thing.
Our server was helpful but not especially friendly; regardless, the meal was delicious and perfectly paced (in the past I have felt rushed). The pizzas really are fantastic, and I love the philosophy behind Franny's. But, our bill, with tax and tip, came to almost $150. Granted, that included two salads, four drinks, two pizzas and two desserts, but it is a lot to pay if what you're looking for is a pizzeria. The argument is that Franny's isn't a traditional pizzeria...it's a restaurant devoted to local ingredients that happens to specialize in pizza. I wholeheartedly applaud the effort that owners Andrew Feinberg and Franny Stephens have made to showcase simple, organic foods. Kevin said it best when he commented that on paper, the salad he ordered sounded good but not especially interesting or other-worldly, but in person, it was utterly terrific. I think that comes from the design behind Franny's -- that simple is better, and that the ingredients should speak for themselves. As owner/chef Andrew Feinberg states, "I believe that if a dish has 3 perfect ingredients then it doesn't need anything else. The menu that I have created for Franny's is based on leaving out that extra ingredient rather than putting it in,"
Amen. But still, the overall experience has never wowed me the way the food (and the passion behind it) has. My conclusion? The food is still amazing, but I'm not sure I love it. But, I highly recommend trying Franny's for yourself -- I am confident that no matter what else, the pizza speaks for itself.
Franny's is located at 295 Flatbush Ave, between St Marks and Prospect Place.