WD-50 still reigns on Clinton, but for something more affordable and less esoteric than foie gras with candied olives, the closing of Clinton Street’s venerable aKa Café and 71 Clinton have left local diners few options. Fear not, the duo behind Carroll Garden’s addictive Frankies 457 Spuntino has blessed us with a mainland branch.
The crowded but cozy 26-seat sliver of a restaurant pulls you in, with soft light glinting off the burnished dark wood and ceramic tile. But don’t get too comfortable. Frankies doesn’t take reservations, and there’s bound to be a wait. You can enjoy a glass of vino at the crowded bar, but we gave them a cell number and got a drink down the street. The 20-minute wait turned out to be five, so I gulped the rest of my beer and hurried back.
We were promptly seated, given a hunk of sourdough from the Sullivan Street Bakery, and ordered a carafe of the House Red ($12), so rich and jammy it lasted through the meal. We started with the Roasted Vegetable Salad ($9), a hearty mélange of the vegetable antipasti selections. Parsnips, sprouts, creminis, string beans, and cauliflower, all fired to a sweet golden brown.
Everything else came out together. Meatballs ($9), a Carroll Street specialty, were large and well seasoned, dusted with grated parmesan, sitting in a pool of chunky tomato sauce tasting of a perfect raw summer tomato. As the name implies, these were meatballs à la carte, without pasta. For a carb pairing, the hot Pine Nut Polenta ($5) made a soft, nutty vessel to enjoy the meatball’s ample sauce. Another side of Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($5) were caramelized to a chocolate brown on the cut side, jade green on top, simply seasoned, and divine. The dish I was looking forward to most, Cavatelli with Hot Sausage and Browned Sage Butter ($14), was sadly lacking. The homemade noodles, cooked al dente, picked up the smoky flavor of the sausage, but the sausage itself overpowered the pasta. This might have worked if the brown butter tied everything together, but instead of a deep, nutty profile, the still-yellow butter added a greasy slickness. It was much improved by a dab of the scarlet sauce from the meatballs.
Stuffed and satisfied, we opted for the check and a Tiramisu ($6) and Chocolate Tart ($6) for the road. During the ride home, I found a second wind and nearly devoured the flaky, ganache-filled tart. The tiramisu was velvety and loaded with espresso and rum, but it fails as finger food, so I had to restrain myself. But it, like the restaurant, was worth the wait.