OK, so I've only been to dinner once at Franny's. But it did happen to be on a Friday night, and after spending four sublime hours there, I felt like a regular.
When the Times reviewed it in August, I immediately knew I had to eat one of their blistery pizzas with Liz. She and I have shared some very special meals together over the last year (Aroma, Veloce), and Franny's might have been the best yet. The restaurant doesn't take reservations, so I arrived in Park Slope early, freshly gymmed and showered and ready to relax into the weekend.
After I staked a claim on the 40-minute wait list, I happily stationed myself at the bar. I'd been waiting months to try the Prosecco with Wild Celery. The bartender, who was performing an impressive ballet of one, explained that the celery is actually lovage, a plant with leaves that resemble celery in look and taste. The leaves are heaped into a pot of simple syrup that's been taken off the heat, similar to making lemonade.
The drink is a cocktail and amuse-bouche rolled into one -- its flavor depth and earthiness awakened my palate for more of the farm fresh ingredients that were to come. The prosecco was dry with small bubbles, and the celery essence was clear but not overwhelming. There was just enough syrup mixed with the prosecco that you got a hint of sweet and a taste of earth with each sip. I have a thing for rustic flavors, be it truffle, the basil at the bottom of a mojito, rind, or shellfish brine, so I welcomed the squeeze of lime that topped it and ate the rind when I got to the bottom. Twice, with some crisp white wine in between.
Looking around the 50-seat space, I had a chance to really take in the restaurant -- exposed brick walls with mirrors that make the narrow, rectangular room appear larger; loud but not painfully so; mostly late twenty- and early- to mid-thirtysomethings; a contented crowd drinking, eating, and laughing at the bar. Comfortable, with a dash of City and a pinch of Country, Franny's is a very modern take on the neighborhood pizza parlor. Grimaldi's, for example, does not carry the same bonhomie, but then, you wouldn't want it to. Franny's manages to make you feel like you're at your favorite, legendary New York pizza parlor, be it Grimaldi's, John's, or Lombardi's, but with a twist -- it tosses its pizzas and twirls its pastas using only local/seasonal, Greenmarket food finds.
Liz is one of those special people who make you feel like you could learn to believe in Santa Claus again, so although I'd scanned the menu at least ten times beforehand, I looked at it with fresh eyes once we were seated. The Crostino of House-Cured Pancetta with Butter or a plate of Sopressata (both cured in the basement)? The Roasted Pumpkin with Parmigiano Reggiano and Balsamic or the Bosc Pears and Toasted Hazelnuts with Pecorino? The Bucatini Cacio e Pepe, or the Linguine with Mussels, Chilies and Garlic? Believe it or not, I just listed a good portion of the menu!
I decided to order what I came for: we split the Wood-Roasted Octopus with Salsa Verde, which arrived perfectly charred yet tender, with that phenomenal campfire-like smokiness from the wood-burning oven. Liz ordered the pizza with Tomato, Buffalo Mozzarella and Sausage. I ordered the pizza with Clams, Chilies and Parsley.
We cut slices of our respective pizzas, and then the eye-popping, silence-inducing, merriment-encouraging reverie began. Oh! the perfect pizza blisters and thin doughiness of the crust. Oh! the sea-saltiness of the clams. Oh!/Ow! the perfectly apportioned sprinkles of chilie. We could barely speak.
"Your sausage is so flavorful and juicy, and I don't care how dirty that sounds!" I thought, if not said.
"I didn't know this had cheese on it," I moaned as I gave up cutting my second slice and began ripping and tearing the pizza apart with my hands, which were quickly covered in parsley.
"What kind of cheese is this?" I asked the waitress. "Ah-ha! it's cream mixed with clam juice...what a culinary revelation!"
The clam cream was brilliant in flavor, and also in texture -- it capitalized on the clam flavor, but didn't turn the pizza into a wet, runny heap, as some Neapolitan style pizzas tend to become.
We ate and drank and took moments of silence, and before we knew it, our pies were gone. We wanted more, and not on another Friday. That Friday. I wished aloud for a dessert pizza like the Oreo one I keep seeing advertised for Domino's. We gave each other a look. And then, when the waitress came to collect our dessert order, we said no to the cannoli, and yes to the Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella pizza. Oreos be damned, the margherita made for a perfect finale.