Cuisine: Italian-AmericanCategory: Neighborhood FavoriteLocation: 1050 East Montague Ave., Park Circle, North CharlestonPhone: 554-5021Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday.Food: 3Atmosphere: 3 1/2Service:2 1/2Price: $-$$Costs: Antipasti $7-$12, soup $6, salad $6-$11, entrees $14-$19, desserts $4-$6, lunch sandwiches $9-$11, pastas (lunch) $8-$15.Vegetarian Options: Yes, but limited unless one eats seafood.Bar: Full-service bar; specialty Italian cocktails; Italian beers on tap.Decibel Level: Moderate to animated; live entertainment.Wheelchair Access: Yes.Other: Daily specials MP; Rio Bertolini’s pastas, Facebook, live entertainment, lunch served 11 a.m.-4 p.m., outdoor sidewalk tables.
Taking its name from the Italian word for “brothers,” Fratello’s is a familial spot that has taken residence in the former Aunt Bea’s.
The space is, in the words of Goldilocks, “just right” with high tops, tables and semi-circular booths that cluster the floor space but do not crowd the traffic flow. Lighting casts a warm glow from a variety of chandeliers.
Oversized posters from the Italian department store Mele add a Neapolitan touch, while wrought-iron designs bring Charleston flourishes into the space.
Local stained-glass artist Elana Barna has crafted an original window for the restaurant on the O’Hear Street side of the building. Flower boxes stenciled with the Fratello’s moniker flourish with late fall blooms and soften the entry with its sandwich board of daily specials.
Modest in size, Fratello’s has the feel of a comfortable neighborhood tavern. Stop in for a cocktail, a glass of wine or a Peroni and the friendly bartenders will make you feel right at home.
At the time of our visit, chef Kevin Bruntz was greeting guests and checking on the happiness of a large party that had gathered in the restaurant.
Friendly servers were quick to attend to new guests as they arrived. And that they did, a steady traffic of “neighbors” seeking the familiar comfort of Italian-American foods.
We had hoped our server would be a better tour guide of the menu. Selling its stuffed mushrooms ($8) created by a “secret” family recipe or praising the Zuppa del Tuorto ($6), another kitchen secret, with enthusiasm. The server is the kitchen’s voice and we had hoped for more conversation from ours.
We also felt the wine list, especially wines by the glass, could be strengthened both on the Italian-side and the “what goes with my menu” side. That being said, the cocktail menu speaks with an Italian accent and house-made limoncello will please those who have cultivated a taste for this gentle citrus liqueur.
The lunch menu (served 11 a.m.-4 p.m.) was nicely balanced with pastas and sandwiches. The thinly sliced pork loin with rapini, hot peppers and provolone and pork juice ($10) is calling my name. I do think that the Amorosos, who have been baking bread and rolls in Philadelphia since 1904, would like to see their name spelled correctly. “Amarosa” needs a spell-check.
Speaking of bread, its selection tasted very much like the quality breads that neighbor EVO Bakery across the street is producing. Crusty, toothsome and wonderful sponges for the fragrant olive oil, left to its fruity merits without the additives of chilies and herbs.
The appetizer menu is quite substantive and we had a hard time choosing among the shrimp in garlic butter sauce ($9), the sausage and peppers wrapped in dough and baked ($7) or the mussels in white wine ($11).
We opted for the crispy calamari tossed with either hot or sweet peppers ($10) and asked for half and half, a good call that the kitchen willingly embraced. Lightly filmed with breading, the canvas of the tender calamari rings would have been overwhelmed by the pungent hot cherry peppers. Served in a bowl — another Goldilocks’ “just right” — for surfing the rings and tentacles through the spicy sauce.
The mushroom soup ($6) spoke to the kitchen’s patience. Fully developed with the earthy meatiness and umami of a variety of mushrooms and slow-simmered to a tender finish, it is a classic preparation done well.
We quibbled with the capellini/angel hair being the default pasta that accompanied many dishes. Its delicate strands were bullied by stronger flavors and textures.
In this food-obsessed times in which we live, however, Fratello’s offers the familiar context of lasagna ($16), stuffed manicotti ($15), spaghetti and meatballs ($14) and classic bistecca pizzaiola ($19).
Do try the chicken scarpariello with cherry peppers and Italian sausage ($16) and do plan on leftovers as portions are ample.
A dish of salmon Milanese ($19) demonstrated the kitchen’s competency in cooking a thick slab of fish to a moist and succulent finish but the bits of garlic in the sauce, neither softened nor melded in cooking, needed to be strained away.
A piccata of veal ($19) suffered from the generosity of the kitchen. Too many capers! And also for a chef that grew up in the schnitzel kitchens of the ’70s, I was surprised to see the veal pounded to such a rough, almost like a Swiss-steak finish, rather than a smooth “escallop” of veal.
Kudos to the kitchen for a variety of Italian-inspired desserts, including a luscious creme brulee made with their limoncello. But leave the garnishes aside and let that crusty caramelized sugar speak for itself.
Fratello’s Italian Tavern wears its name well. With a few minor interventions to the menu and some training tips to the staff, it will find itself quite at home in the energized Park Circle neighborhood and be a restaurant for all our appetites.
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