An Unassuming Carry-Out Offers Fine-Dine Taste
Frank's Pizza and Pasta (6620 Belair Road,  254-2900) doesn't look like much. Jammed between Joyce Beauty Club and an H&R Block in an Overlea strip mall patrolled by a security guard, Frank's has the neon-sign and fluorescent light glow of any other storefront pizza joint promising slices and subs. It's only when you walk inside that Frank's charms reveal themselves, like so many slices of pepperoni spilling from a molten calzone.
At Frank's Formica counter, all the men are "buddy" and the women, regardless of age are either "young lady" or "darlin'," a sobriquet used by the stocky tattooed fella behind the register with such obvious affection and delight that to be offended would be to miss the point entirely. This is a neighborhood joint, and like Mr. Rogers, these folks are clearly glad to have you in their neighborhood. In fact, when I called (anonymously, of course) to alert the restaurant that I'd be bringing a group of seven or so that evening--a small courtesy to a small restaurant--this same man sounded positively elated to host us.
"We'll put some tables together for you," he enthused. "Is this a special event?"
"Nah, just some friends who haven't seen enough of each other getting together," I told him.
"That's the best reason," he said, and I could hear him grinning through the phone.
Though Frank's does a hefty carry-out business, eating on premise at one of the booths with peach-colored tables under a framed Mediterranean scene rendered in oils allows you to savor your meal straight from the source, rather than from a cardboard or Styrofoam box. But don't limit your choices to the large backlit menu listing all manner of pizza, Stromboli, calzones, and subs. While Frank's is definitely all about pizza--both thin and crispy and thick spongy Sicilian style crusts--Frank's is also about pasta and very good pasta at that. Take time to thumb through one of the multi-paged plastic menus and consider the several pages of pasta dishes featuring chicken, veal, or seafood (or just check the white board at the front of the restaurant for the night's special). And sure, you can get lasagna ($7.79) here, but why would you if you can order linguini a la pescatore ($16.99), as we did, brimming with shrimp, clams, and mussels?
Pastas are served with garlic breadsticks and small, basic salads best accented with the house-made vinegar and oil-based Italian dressing, and while ordering dinner at the counter, we were also given a choice of sauces with the pescatore. One diner hesitated in deciding between red sauce or white, so someone asked our host's advice. "I like half and half," he said, so half and half it was, a surprisingly balanced texture of chunky tomato and garlicky olive oil sauces that complemented the generous mound of shellfish smothering the linguini.
I wouldn't normally consider combining crab and tomato sauce, but the mild marinara sauce in pasta a la Felice ($14.98) gently napped the jumbo shrimp and lump crabmeat in soft flavor rather than overpowering them. "It's pretty perfect," said the diner who ordered it, beaming with each bite.
The rest of our meal was comprised of Italian take-out standbys. A crispy hoagie roll cradled four Parmesan-draped meatballs ($5.49), so rich we nearly flipped a coin to award the last bite. A half moon-shaped gourmet calzone ($10.59), filled with pepperoni, sausage, ricotta, and mozzarella, covered nearly the entire surface area of a dinner plate and was as satisfying as it was large. And diners who were fans of Frank's snappy thin-crust pizza ($9.23 with pepperoni) murmured their grudging admiration for Frank's version of the chewy, thick Sicilian style ($16.99 for gourmet version) and vice versa. Both the cannolis ($3.29) and the light, espresso-soaked tiramisu ($3.59) come from a bakery in Philadelphia.
If there's any drawback to Frank's it's that there's no table service and diners must run back and forth to the counter to grab water, plates, silverware, etc.. Some meals are served on china; others, like pizza, are served on paper plates. If you can't handle that, then don't go.
Throughout the rest of our evening at Frank's, the restaurant bustled with takeout orders--from a mother whose pigtailed daughter found joy in a bin of paper-wrapped drinking straws to an unshaven band boy in hoodie and skinny jeans. Clearly the staff know many of their customers, and in between exchanging soccer talk with a youngster wearing a Lutheran Saints uniform and just a wisp of an adolescent mustache, our host behind the counter checked in on his seated customers, offering more water, another wine glass (Frank's is BYOB), boxes to take home extra pizza. And when we paid our bill and said our thank yous, he made sure to invite us to return. Our tables would be waiting, he said. Now that's Italian, buddy.
Open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner.