Brooklyn has over a dozen eateries that reflect immigration from Naples and the surrounding region of Campania a century ago. Their scarlet cooking has long since been assimilated into the American mainstream, establishing pizza, lasagna, and spaghetti with meatballs as culinary cornerstones. A few of the old places, like Bamonte’s in Williamsburg and Cino’s in Fort Greene, have been dredged up and popularized by foodies—though they were never abandoned by their stalwart original patrons, many of whom moved to Long Island and retained quaint hairstyles.
The chillingly named Frost has avoided wider popularity by maintaining a location so obscure that a sojourner from any of the first three stops on the L won’t find it without a very good road map. From the outside, the premises too are daunting, looking like a darkened concrete bunker. Inside, swinging doors from the tiled entranceway lead to a cavernous dining room, where walls and circumfuse banquette alike are done in a relentless shade of reddish brown. Ship’s-wheel sconces and other nautical touches promise that seafood will predominate once you open the menu.
The marinara is on the chunky side, a red so bright you oughta wear shades. Light glints off it like sun on the Gulf of Naples, and the chunks of garlic are large enough to resemble miniature boats. Amplified with cubed prosciutto and bits of parsley, this sauce forms the basis for rigatoni matriciana ($12). While purists insist the dish be made with pancetta or even guanciale, the prosciutto may have been all that was available to early Neapolitan American cooks, and it acquits itself admirably. The Campanian penchant for cheese of the freshest sort is reflected in baked pastas like manicotti ($9), an oblong bowl mantled with bubbling mozzarella. Underneath, a thick roadbed of ricotta has the clean taste of milk not long out of the cow. The intervening layer of pasta forms a wobbly Berlin Wall between contending masses of cheese. If you long for a greater proportion of pasta, order the lasagna, or the marvelous casserole of mozzarella and eggplant ($12), which comes with a voluminous side of spaghetti.
In every culinary transaction at Frost, garlic is the not-so-silent partner. Chicken siciliana ($14) finds a half-bird hacked into a dozen pieces inundated by an oily orange bath studded with enough garlic to send you sprawling blissfully across the banquette. Another megaton blast issues from zuppa di pesce mare chiare ($22)—not really a soup, but a jumble of crustaceans in a thin, lively, and abundant red sauce. After picking out the clams, mussels, conch, shrimp, and squid (enlist an assistant), you reach for the bread basket to take care of the remaining fluid. But, instead of the Styrofoam baguette you get at most Italian joints, there’s a round loaf, thickly sliced. The stout crust verges on black, and the crumb is as absorbent as Bounty. No shallow dish of wimpy olive oil here, either. Old-fashioned butter pats are provided instead. When they are available, there is also a free skiff of long green chiles, grilled and oiled—a signature of Williamsburg restaurants that hail from the southern Campania town of Teggiano. Rub them into the bread and set course for Naples.