Opened in 2002, Lil' Frankies in the East Village started serving Neapolitan-ish pizzas in Manhattan before anyone could have even predicted the current wave of Neapolitan pizzerias that the city is awash in. An Italian-American kid from New York, the eponymous Frank Prisinzano, runs three East Village restaurants these days (Frank Restaurant, Supper Restaurant, and Lil' Frankies). The man even started a storefront, street-level, community radio station way back in 2003. A pizzeria with a radio station? Take note, Roberta's.
Of course, all of this is moot if the pizza is no good. There's some pretty stiff competition for Neapolitan pizza in Manhattan these days. Does Lil' Frankie's continue to stack up?
First off, it's important to note that Lil' Frankie's is not just a pizzeria. Indeed, the appetizer and entree sections of their menus—which comprises everything from a bresaola salad ($13.95) and steamed mussels ($12.95) to squash gnocchi ($15.95) and marinated skirt steak ($18.95)—run longer than the pizza section. That said, they've got the brick-by-brick imported double-walled lava rock 900°F wood-burning oven, and there's still a good dozen or so pizza options on a daily basis.
The Margherita ($10.95) is tasty, though their mozzarella doesn't stack up in terms of creaminess and flavor to that of, say, nearby Motorino. Their crust is also not as flavorful or skillfully cooked. It comes with a nice amount of charring on the bones, but the underbelly is a bit over-charred for my taste, and I like my pizza damn near burnt to a crisp. Perhaps it's a matter of under-proofed dough? It's not completely flat tasting, but it lacks true complexity, instead relying on a heavy hand with the salt to amp up its flavor.
So what reason is there to go to Lil' Frankies? The toppings. I'm not much of a toppings man, but I know plenty of people who are, and the choices at Lil' Frankies are both varied and top notch. The Pizza Polpettine ($14.95) we had last time featured perfectly seasoned, tender, and nicely crisped miniature meatballs with a good amount of fresh sage flavor. I'm also a fan of the Pizza Napoletana ($14.95) with capers, olives, and anchovies, and the Pizza Salame Piccante ($14.95)—you can't go wrong with adding spicy salami to anything.
At one point, Lil' Frankie's was one of the very few true Neapolitan-style pizzerias in the neighborhood. This is no longer the case, but it's still got solid pies and is one of the few with a huge menu of non-pizza food and pizza toppings alike. This means that you pizza nerds can come with your normal friends* and make sure that everyone finds something they'll like on the menu.
*you have these, right?
Lil' Frankies Pizza
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.