Located way down Court Street, in a region once known as South Brooklyn or Red Hook but renamed Carroll Gardens by real estate developers in the 1960s, Frankies 457 Spuntino is a cozy tin-ceilinged trattoria founded by a pair of Italian American pals from Queens—both named Frankie. Rather than paying obeisance to imported Italian products and Tuscan-style culinary legerdemain, the pair celebrates the formidable accomplishments of Italian American cooking in Brooklyn. Witness the cavatelli ($13). Gnarled and grooved homemade noodles—with an enriching admixture of ricotta in the dough—are bombarded with spicy Italian sausage, fistfuls of butter, and plenty of fresh sage, reflecting the bounty of the new world. A more savory pasta can hardly be imagined.
Cavatelli is a favorite of Apulia, the spiked heel of the Italian boot, of which Waverly Root observed in The Food of Italy: “It is the richest of the three southernmost provinces, which is not saying much since the other two are poverty stricken.” Many Brooklynites trace Apulian roots—in fact, a block north of Frankies, find a stone gazebo cradling a mournful statue of Maria S.S. Addolorata, patron saint of Mola di Bari, a coastal town south of Bari. The small municipality is ancestral home to an estimated 20,000 Brooklynites. And, of course, Bari is a name emblazoned across hundreds of pizza ovens in the borough.
Not only does the pasta originate in Apulia. The spicy sausage tossed with the cavatelli is manufactured by Faicco’s, the city’s foremost Italian pork store, with branches in Dyker Heights and Greenwich Village. Faicco’s, too, is Apulian, as evidenced by displays of the fennel-and-black-pepper-laced crackers called taralli on the store’s counter. The same sausage makes its way into Frankies’ wonderful broccoli rabe and sausage sandwich ($8), which forgoes the usual demi-baguette in favor of Sullivan Street Bakery’s pizza bianca, a flatbread fragrant with rosemary. The pizza bianca hits the sandwich for an Ebbet’s Field home run.
A spuntino is a snack shop—an appropriate description of Frankies if you also add “restaurant” and “wine bar.” The menu encompasses such diverse offerings as roasted veggies like parsnips and Jerusalem artichokes, pine-nutted polenta, a tart salad of bitter chicory spears called puntarelle, a half-dozen crostini, plates of cheese and cured meats, soups, raisin-dotted meatballs, and a few true entrées, including pastas and a stray braise or two. Among the braises find braciola, a pork steak rolled around a filling of garlic, parsley, provolone, and pecorino romano. It comes deposited in a thick marinara, and Mama couldn’t have done better.
The wine list is exemplary, and a comparative bargain. I can recommend a pair of distinguished reds that I often serve to friends at home. Cantina Zaccagnini’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($24) fills a bottle with a grape twig tied around its neck, a wine of such deep and wonderful purpleness that it can go up against rich pastas and cured pork. Somewhat lighter is Argiolas Perdera ($28), a rustic Sardinian red made from a grape called Monica that rarely appears on its own. But the best thing I can say about Frankies does not concern its menu, wine, or ambience, and it’s something that cannot be said about the welter of mediocre restaurants lining nearby Smith Street: Frankies feels like it belongs in the neighborhood.