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The fat lady at the next table adjusts her Jackie O sunglasses, smoothes a hand through her piled-up nest of blond, fiddles with her sequined top. A young couple clinks glasses over a plate of roasted peppers. Giovanni, the god, folds his cell phone and glides back to the piano to perform another round Cole Porter to Coldplay. He's so beautiful you have to look at him sidelong; it's like staring at the sun. There's a scuffle going on at another table over a check nobody wants to pay it. "I'm not gonna pay for your fuckin' drinks," snarls one guy at his pal. Their wives sit in silence, eyes unfocused, looking into the near distance at nothing. He's wearing an absurdly festive tropical shirt, reds and greens, parrots and palm trees, a happy-go-lucky shirt; but his grey hair is clipped close, like a Marine, and he's got the world's meanest eyes. Weirdly, his mates seem nonplused by the obscenities. He's always been this way, tighter than a gnat's chuff whatcha gonna do with him?
And over there, gramps is digging into the best plate of vongole oreganato he's tasted since 1957, tipping them right from the shell into his maw. To say nothing of the calamari, the scungilli!
124 S. federal Highway
Hallandale Beach, FL 33009
Region: Hallandale Beach
We're at Frankie's Pier 5. And we don't want to be anywhere else.
We've sat a little while over just a bottle of water; it's a busy Saturday night. At some point our waiter dances over and presents the menu with a special flourish, part magician, part courtier. He's intent, middle-aged, looking down at us over the rims of his glasses, sizing us up: What's it gonna be a bowl of soup and they'll split the insalata? Or does this lady know how to eat?
She does. And tonight she's going to start with the frutti di mare ($11.95) and a cold vodka martini, per favore.
We order frutti di mare, vongole al forno ($8.95). The penne fileto ($15.95). And veal brasciola ($20.95) with Frank Perrone's top-secret special "rugu" sauce. The chicken Marsala ($18.95). A plate of escarole ($5.50) and another plate of sautéed mushrooms ($6.95). A half bottle of Ruffino Chianti ($25) from that Wine Spectator Award-winning list is going to taste just fine with all of it. And let's take it slow, please, we're in no rush tonight...
The Perrones have had the Hallandale Beach Italian restaurant business cornered for about 35 years. Frank Perrone's father Luigi emigrated from Italy in 1960, went to work at Doria's as a dishwasher, and by 1971 had saved enough to bring over his wife and all nine kids. Luigi and brother Dominick eventually leased Doria's, hired practically the whole family to run it brothers-in-law, sons, daughters all working the line or waiting tables and turned it into one of Hallandale Beach's classic success stories. The name, the menu, the location have changed a few times over the years, but the line from Doria's to Frankie's Pier 5 is unbroken. Family still runs the place. Frank's son Louis sees to the front of the house while Frank works the kitchen it's Louis who'll find you a table and stop by later to ask how you liked the zuppa di pesce.
Four years ago, they moved into the building they now occupy. There's no pier anywhere in this vicinity, but there's a handsome red-painted facade with double arches leading to an entrance, and sprightly valets hopping into Fords and Mercedeses. Inside, two pale yellow salons on either side of the bar are hung with paintings, plain tables are covered with a double layer of the softest linen, and most have a view of the piano.
Depending on your appetite, this can be a good thing or a bad thing, because the guy at the piano has a voice as ethereally sweet as the whipped cream on that piece of chocolate cake the fat lady's eating. And he's more delicious looking even than the beautiful plate of saltimbocca heading for another table. Now he's singing Bee Gees and Sinatra in his angel voice, with perfect phrasing, or getting up for a break, moving through the room with the fluid stride of a dark leopard. But to this crowd, murmuring and bickering over their vermicelli, he's invisible.
And truly, that's what good food will do to you, isn't it? You know you're in the right place when the salmon Livornese trumps sex. The siren song of lobster fra diavolo erects an invisible field that repels all other forces. It was inevitable that we found our full energies refocused on the plate of frutti di mare and clams al forno that soon arrived, the latter wafting clouds of herb-scented steam and still sizzling under their blankets of bread crumbs. On the cold plate, little dark whelks, with their condensed, intense flavor, and tiny whole squid and shrimp were tossed with nothing more than celery, garlic, lemon, olive oil; they needed little else. This was the lightest and freshest and chewiest of antipasti, a breath of sea air to stimulate the palate. A basket of focaccia with sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary, gritty semolina coating its bottom, and crisply crusted Italian bread were great for mopping up stray oils and sauces, or to slather with the sweet butter softening in its porcelain dish.