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A Taste of Italy: Frenchie’s Italian Cuisine
by Shalimar R. Sankar
1041 Nasa Road One
|April 2004–My quest to alleviate the growling of my tummy led me to this tiny, mundane structure on the 1041 block of Nasa Road One. As I pulled into its small, but sadly vacant parking lot, I didn’t know what to expect by the look of its exterior. Aside from the green italicized lettering, which reads, Frenchie’s Italian Cuisine, this building is down right boring! For a sec there I thought it was closed, until I spotted a few parked cars hidden at the side. As I started walking up towards the building, I could hear a little boy pestering his father into taking him to Baskin Robbins, which is just next door, and his father warning him to be quiet. Ice cream was sounding pretty good to me by now, but I was totally hungry and needed some real nourishment.Stepping foot inside Frenchie’s, I found this ordinary looking building to be quite lively and amiable. It holds true to the saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover” . There, I was greeted with a smile ear-to-ear from either Frankie or Giuseppe (who’s known by his friends as Joe). I can never tell them apart. To me they’re twins, not brothers. Inside, the aroma of freshly grated Italian spices all being mixed together, and the feeling of the blissful atmosphere hits me like a cool breeze on a warm summer’s day.
You yourself cannot help but to also have an ear-to-ear grin when you’re there. Just the look of these two giddy, energetic middle-aged Italian men running around will put a smile on anyone’s face. Picture two middle-aged, chunky men, just shy of 5’4”, bearing quite a large bald spot in the front of their circular heads, making their foreheads appear twice as big as normal. Wearing pleated khakis alongside a dress shirt, there you’ll have Frankie and his brother Joe. Let me tell you a thing or two about these Italian owners. If there’s one thing they love just as much as good food, it’s gabbing. These men can talk up a storm to anyone, anywhere, anytime. I’ve learned that they will walk straight up to your table and start talking to you like if they’ve known you for years. They’re also quite the little jokers, I hear. They try their best to make your dining there with them the best and most enjoyable as it can be.
I noticed that most of their customers were ordering a chicken crepe, so naturally I ordered one as well. I found a crepe to be this oily pastry looking thing filled with chicken and mushrooms, smothered in their freshly homemade sauce. It’s burnt on the edges, however, that’s what gives it its natural taste. It comes in pairs, alongside a salad, mainly drizzled in Italian’s favorite oil and vinegar vinaigrette, together with all the homemade bread you can allow yourself to devour. Not to worry for those of you with big appetites, they are extremely generous with their portions. But hey, I’m a skinny girl so generous portions to me may not be what you call generous.
In addition, all their bread and sauces are homemade daily on the premises with a pinch of Italian love. As for their wine selection, I hear they house some standout and rare Italian bottles, such as a multilayered Lacryma Christi Mastroberadino that they sell at quite a steal. And don’t forget to save room for the best part…dessert! Yeah! Though their list is limited, they’re outstanding. Their tiramisu, chocolate-almond cake, and chocolate musse (which is pilled high with fluffy whipped cream) are a taste of heaven. And to those on the Atkins diet, I highly recommend y’all taking a day off and coming down here to eat. Hey, it’s not like it’ll kill ya. I say live a little.
In addition to the innovative food selections and attentive service, you get to hear the blissful sounds of Joe, Frankie’s brother, singing some of his all time Italian favorites while you wait. The Camera brother (who are from the island of Capri) came from a family of musicians, so it’s no wonder Joe loves entertaining his customers by singing and humming a cappella. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not karaoke night, he merely sings and hums while he’s taking people’s order. However, just like how every diamond has a flaw, this Italian bistro has its drawbacks. Their entrée list is disappointingly short yet it carries some amazingly low-prices. Although you must fetch your own silverware, napkins and drinks, your food is sent to your table. Nonetheless, the spirit of this little mom and pop Italian bistro is absolutely captivating.
I was flabbergasted to find out that a place called Frenchie’s serves up some of the finest Italian/Neapolitan cooking on this side of Houston. If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering why in the world an Italian restaurant would have the name Frenchie’s plastered in front of it. Well, it just so happened to be the name that was there twenty-five years ago when they took over that location. Rather than spending the money on changing the sign, they decided to spend it on the kitchen itself. Kudos to Frank and Giuseppe! The brothers, who came to America thirty years ago, wanted to show Houstonians and tourist a little of what Italy is all about. Food is the essence of life. For most Italians, food is a passion and many maintain that they live to eat, not eat to live.
While at Frenchie’s, I got a chance to talk with four of Frenchie’s regulars. Like Frankie and his bro, they too were extremely benevolent, carrying a smile on their face a mile wide. Middle aged, and all turning gray, they varied from plump to the norm. The four Caucasian Lockheed engineers, two men and two women, told me they’ve been coming here since Frenchie’s opened up in late 1979. As regulars, they dine here just about every week, and told me that I could probably find them there every Saturday at around the same time, about 2:30 p.m. I was amazed to find out that these people had been coming here for the past twenty-five years. The reason behind them being such devoted customers was the fact that unlike the Americanized Italian dishes you see at these familiar Italian restaurants, here you are sure to find some good old authentic Italian cuisines, which is sure to have you walk out with a belly full and a satisfying dining experience.
As I looked around the walls I noticed a mass of NASA memorabilia adorning its entryway and one of its three dining room walls. In addition to the astronauts, I found many Kodak moments with a few legendary Hollywood stars, including the gorgeous Tom Cruise and the beautiful Penelope Cruz. Not to mention pictures of folks like me whom all have eaten here at Frenchie’s, alongside with pictures of the Italian Camera family. The pictures ranged from the former astronauts to the present day 1991 Challenger, along with the 2003 Colombia STS-107, who I learned had a bon voyage soiré at Frenchie’s just before their departure from Houston, which sadly enough was their last time here on Earth. In memory of STS-107, the Camera brothers lit a single white candle and placed it near the television tuned to the memorial.
On a pleasant note, I read in one of the many various local newspaper articles that one astronaut wished Frankie could cater up in orbit; while others said they were looking forward to Frankie’s renowned chicken crepe when they got back to planet Earth. Another newspaper article informed me that Italy’s very own president was among Frenchie’s admirers. Wow! If the President of Italy wanted to have dinner at a certain Italian restaurant then it must be a damn good place, I’ll say! While looking at all of these happy people’s faces on the walls, I couldn’t help but think that this place might in fact be a popular and well admired place on this side of southeast Houston. I then learned that their off-hours are between one and three o’clock p.m., which might possibly have been the reason behind the empty parking lot, seeing as how I got here roughly at two o’clock. In addition to the articles, many international and Houston reporters have recognized Frenchie’s whom have heard by word of mouth that they might in fact be the most down-home Italian in metropolitan Houston, which is well-liked among NASA astronauts. Another one of Frenchie’s admirers is KTRK-TV Channel 13’s very own, admired consumer investigative reporter and food critic, Marvin Zindler, who’s been in the news business for over fifty years now, named Frenchie’s one of the places in Houston that he enjoys dining at.
By dining at Frenchie’s, you can expect nothing but the best. Dining here is like dining at the home of a close friend. To them every person from the moment they step foot into their “house,” is treated with the same kind of respect and dignity they would give to a family member of their own. As I left this warm and authentic little mom and pop place, I left with a couple more friends then I started out with. Frenchie’s, like the many Italian restaurants around here, carry the wine bottles and greenery, however they also hold something which I haven’t seen in the past nineteen years in other Italian restaurants. Compassion. The fun loving Camera brothers sent me off with a big “Ciao,” along with the same ear-to-ear grin they carried when I entered. And to think, I was this close to going over to Baskin Robbins. Aren’t I glad I listened to my stomach?
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