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[Photographs: Todd Brock]

Frankie's Italian Ristorante

3125 Roswell Road, Marietta, GA 30062 (map); 770-578-6608
Pizza type: New York-style
Oven type: Gas
The Skinny: Just a neighborhood Italian joint, love it or leave it
Price: 14-inch Margherita, $12.20; 14-inch Pepperoni & Sausage, $12.25

It's three miles from my front door. I can generally make it there in seven minutes flat. It's that neighborhood joint that my wife and I have adopted as "ours." It was where we first dined out after moving to this part of the 'burbs seven years ago. It's still that go-to spot we frequent when either nothing else sounds particularly good or no-fuss Italian sounds really good, that mom-and-pop kind of place Billy Joel sang about.

A bottle of red, a bottle of white
Whatever kind of mood you're in tonight

I'll meet you anytime you want
In our Italian restaurant
*

I'm not sure what yours is called, although I hope to God you have one. Mine is called Frankie's Italian Ristorante. There's plenty to rip on, if you were of the mind to do so. But it's "our Italian restaurant," so I'll keep going back... even though it pains me to say that the pizza is less than platinum.

If you had asked me a year ago, I would have said that Frankie's pizza (choose from a 14- or 16-inch New York-style pie "served in eight slices," as pointed out on the menu) was among my favorites... maybe just because of the familiarity and the proximity. But writing reviews for Slice has taught me volumes and opened my eyes to other pies. And for all my lighten-up-it's-just-pizza rhetoric, I wondered if maybe I had become a pizza snob just the same.

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As I tried to take in Frankie's in a whole new way, I found myself looking through decidedly snob-colored glasses at the faux Venetian plaster walls, the revolving dessert case, the Tiffany-style lamps, and the framed Leonetto Cappiello posters everywhere. But the needle of my Snoberator was pegged in the red by the time the Margherita was placed before me. Although not a variety I would ever have ordered before becoming a professional Slice'r, I now knew enough that my brow instinctively furrowed a little at Roma tomato cross-sections instead of a hand-crushed sauce, an even blanket of shredded mozzarella instead of oozing puddles, and a pile of thin chiffonade strips of basil instead of artfully-arranged full leaves. I can certainly accept a non-textbook interpretation... but my heart and hopes were sinking fast.

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And heaven help me, try as I might have to resist the urge, I couldn't bring that first slice to my lips without flipping it over and searching for some legitimate char spotting. Then I got down and inspected the cornicione (Holy Brenda and Eddie, how do I even know that word now?) for a better look at the hole structure. Pre-Slice Todd would have torn through those garlic rolls (which are pretty sensational) and been two slices in by now. Nope, I was asking my poor server to confirm whether the kitchen's pizza oven was, in fact, gas. (It is.)

Crusty, saucy, cheesy? Yes, yes, and yes. The Margherita fulfilled these basic qualifications of pizza, but there was no character here, nothing to get excited about. The crust was non-offensive, but bland. The sauce, sparingly applied, was near flavorless. Nothing about it was bad, per se... but nothing about it jumped out, either. And for better or worse, I'm now at a point with pie where I want something to jump out. As I thought wistfully about non-pizza dishes from Frankie's menu that I could order without snobbing out (veal Parm, zuppa di pesci, baked ziti), I decided to reserve full judgment until I also sampled a pie more in line with my longtime pizza leanings.

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The pepperoni-sausage saved the night by delivering a satisfying-if-uneventful pie. Same bland crust, same too-subtle sauce, same stock cheese. But pepperoni is always welcome at any party I throw, and I loved the thinly-sliced sausage, which had a nice bit of seasoning in it. This didn't restore Frankie's as one of my favorites—I've had just too many truly memorable pizzas now—but who am I kidding? Saran-Wrapped cannoli behind spinning glass, chipped woven-wood salad bowls, Dean Martin wafting from the drop-ceiling tiles, that tired Pates Baroni print, and thoroughly unimpressive pizza notwithstanding... I'll be back to Frankie's. It may not be anything terribly special, but that may actually be why it's "our Italian restaurant."

Then the king and the queen went back to the green
But you can never go back there again

We always knew they would both find a way to get by

And here we are waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye

*Lyrics from "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant," Billy Joel, The Stranger, 1977

About the Author: Todd Brock lives the glamorous life of a stay-at-home freelance writer in the suburbs of Atlanta. Besides being paid to eat cheeseburgers for AHT and pizzas for Slice, he's written and produced over 1,000 hours of television and penned Building Chicken Coops for Dummies. When he grows up, he wants to be either the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys or the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish. Or both.

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