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July 19, 2005

One Lucky Neighborhood

People toss the term "neighborhood restaurant" around lightly, but the folks at Frankies 457 in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens take it seriously. Luckily for everyone, they know what they're doing.

The cozy, dimly-lit area by the front door holds a few small tables for those arriving in pairs. The back dining area opens up to make room for larger parties, but the space feels equally inviting thanks to wide swaths of exposed brick (walls) and dark polished wood (tables). The food is similarly welcoming. Split into a number of small sub-sections—salads, crostini, antipasti, sandwiches, and on and on—the menu invites the kind of lazy, pick-and-choose ordering style that, come the dog days of summer, is the only kind worth leaving home for.

I'd step out of the air-conditioned calm of my apartment and brave the steamy city streets any day for the marinated Jerusalem artichokes, cool and tangy, the creamy avocado and pesto crostini, the plate of fava beans bright and green beneath shards of Moliterno, an unsung hero of the sheep's milk cheese world ready to make anyone a convert from the staid tradition of Parmigiano.

This is Italian trattoria food at its best, clean and unfussy, and though neither Frank (Castronovo nor Falcinelli) could be mistaken for the archetypal Italian nonna you might start dreamily envisioning behind such food, their tableside manner is as good a substitute as you'll find this side of the Atlantic. Settle in at the bar for a refreshing cocktail or two (their Moscow Mule, made with bitters, is especially good), watch the Franks exchange wisecracks with the regulars, and wish your neighborhood had it this good.

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