Frank's Trattoria has been a popular eatery in West Caldwell since the early 1990s. It's not uncommon on a weekend night to see every table filled and customers lined up out the door. The crowds always consist of a solid cross section of the residents of our area, from young families to senior citizens.
A part take-out and dine-in mecca (delivery is offered only on large catering orders), Frank's success seems to come from focusing on being a value-based, true family restaurant. That means being plugged into the community—the menu even includes coupons for local businesses like Century 21 and Play 'N' Trade.
Frank's "family values" are also evident in the specials that are on prominent display in the storefront's window. For example, Tuesday night is "chicken dinner night"—all chicken dinners are $10.99.
Overall Menu Highlights
Frank's appetizer lineup includes time-tested sellers such as mozzarella sticks, fried calamari (hot or sweet) and hot buffalo wings. Moms might like the sauteed broccoli rabe, while the kids might desire the chicken fingers or fries with cheese.
There are homemade soups (tortellini, chicken vegetable) and salads, which seem to be a big seller (arugula with grilled chicken is one option).
All hot and cold sandwiches are available in either the 6-inch or 12-inch sizes, with all the favorites listed: cheese steaks and the "parms"—sausage, meatball, chicken and veal.
Frank's further establishes itself as family oriented with a separate children 's menu that has something for even the most fussy eaters: spaghetti, baked ziti and the aforementioned chicken fingers.
Pastas come in various shapes and sizes, from ravioli and manicotti to gnocchi and cavatelli.
When ordering, you'll probably be saying "red or white," but not for wine (BYO), but sauce: marinara and alfredo sauces are offered on almost all macaroni, as is garlic and oil and vodka.
On the meat side of things, chicken and veal can be whipped in many ways. Some standouts are the Chicken Cacciatore (peppers, mushrooms, bacon and onions) and Veal Cutlet Reale—that's made with eggplant and topped with parmigiana cheese.
Frank's pizza menu reads like an Excel spreadsheet, with types flowing downward, and sizes running across. Whole pizzas come in various sizes, including 10-, 14- and 16-inch as well as Sicilian.
Chicken is used as a topping in marsala, franchese, parmigiana and balsamic styles. Fun flavors include the buffalo chicken and penne or tortellini creations. Finally, there's stuffed pizza (meat or vegetable).
After this virtual tour, it's time to get down to the business of plain cheese pizza—what's Frank's like?
The judges for this round—the second-to-last one—are editor Mike Pignataro, contributor Ron Albanese and former Caldwell Borough Administrator and Clerk Maureen Ruane.
It was my first time back to Frank's in a while. What's interesting about the interior decor of the place is that it's a hybrid of a pizzeria and a diner with its diner-style booths that line the wall. It's a cool atmosphere.
I can see why kids love the place—the slices are huge!
Unfortunately, the pizza's actual flavor wasn't as big. I found the cheese and sauce to be good, but the crust was very dry and took away from the rest of the pie.
Since the slices were so big, I folded my first piece in half, which only accentuated the crust. So the second time I ate the slice flat, which was definitely better, but still the dry, bread-like texture of the crust diminished the taste of the cheese and sauce.
Cheese: This topping somehow tasted a little different—it had a unique, pleasing flavor.
Sauce: The sauce was definitely in the backseat flavor wise; I saw something red on my slice, but couldn't taste it. I actually dismantled a piece of the pie to try and get to the red stuff. When I finally did, what I tasted wasn't bad; it's just a shame I had to hunt for it.
Crust: It was pretty dry and actually tasted like a cracker. My impression was that the dough would be best used for a calzone or stromboli.
Overall: This was the largest pizza we've tasted—it sat on its own side table fixture—but the taste was small. The crust seems to be the issue.
Special guest judge: Maureen Ruane
Maureen's pizza tastes run along the thin-crust, not "too cheesy" variety and in The Caldwells she likes Tony D's. On pizza, she says "sauce—that's what the difference is" Ah, someone after our hearts. It was her first time at Frank's.
Special note: As Maureen dug in, she earned herself a unique distinction in our contest—she ate her entire pizza with a knife and fork! That's a first.
Here are her findings, presented lightning-round style.
Crust: "Crackers! Bread like."
Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10: "3."
Addrress: 802 Bloomfield Ave., West Caldwell
Plain large cheese pizza price: $12.75
Taste tested on: May 6, 2010
Contest notes: Hard as it may to believe, next week's visit to Franco's in West Caldwell will be the final stop in our inaugural Best Pizza of The Caldwells Contest. Along the way we've appreciated your reading, commenting, and in some cases, joining us.
Let us know your opinion in the below comments section.