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Fratelli's rolls out good food, great bread

September 23, 2011

By ANNE CHOVEY

Special to The Herald-Mail

The website for Fratelli Italian Pizzeria & Grill states, "Fratelli Restaurant is here to serve good food in a family atmosphere."

That sounded like a good invitation to me, so my friend Pap Ricka and I stopped in for dinner.

Fratelli's has a cheerful exterior in one of the units in the South Pointe Shopping Center, on Oak Ridge Drive in Hagerstown. To the left of the front door is an outdoor eating area with tables and chairs under umbrellas. We walked in and were greeted immediately by a friendly fellow who led us to a booth.

The dining room is large, with booths around the sides of the room and tables down the center. Off to the left, behind the outdoor patio is a bar area. The night we were there, the bar was the center of a children's birthday party complete with balloons and lots of kids.

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The menu for Fratelli's is extensive. One side has appetizers, sandwiches, subs and pizza. The other has Italian dinners, Mexican dishes and salads. Many dishes had a little chef's face next to them indicating they were "best sellers."

Among the best-selling appetizers were bruschetta and waffle fries, both $8. The sandwiches included paninis ($6 to $7), burgers and chicken sandwiches ($5.75 to $6.25), hot and cold subs ($5.95 to $6.75), calzones, Stromboli and pizza.

With pizza, you could either "create your own" with a list of toppings that included broccoli, sundried tomatoes, pineapple and anchovies, along with more usual choices, or you could get a "specialty pizza." These included barbecue chicken, quattro stagioni (artichoke hearts, mushrooms, green peppers, ham and tomato sauce), and vegetarian (sun-dried tomatoes, broccoli, sauteed onions, mushrooms, grilled red peppers and eggplant).

The flip side had traditional pasta dishes such as spaghetti and fettucine ($8 to $12) and baked dishes like ziti, manicotti and stuffed shells ($9 to $11). All the Italian dinners came with salad and garlic bread.

The Mexican menu included fajitas, tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas. The salads looked really delicious: "Antonio's" had dried cranberries, apples, glazed pecans, bleu cheese and chicken on mixed greens ($10). The "Aegean" had lettuce, black olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, onions, croutons and Greek dressing ($6.50).

After much deliberation, I chose the chicken pesto panini and Pap picked the Tour of Italy, which is homemade lasagna, manicotti and chicken parmigiana. We also picked a best-selling appetizer: crab dip.

So far, Fratelli's was living up to its name. There were families with small children, young people on dates and older couples (like Pap and me), as well as those attending the birthday party.

Shortly after we placed our order, our waitress brought Pap's salad. I was surprised that his salad came before the appetizer we ordered. But the salad looked great -- it had a mix of lettuces, cucumber, red cabbage, tomatoes and croutons. It was cold, fresh and crunchy.

We waited some time for our appetizer. In fact, we were beginning to wonder if our waitress forgot to put in the order. But then the crab dip appeared. It was in a large, long, baking dish surrounded by slices of baguette. The crab was piping hot and smothered in layers of melted cheese, and topped with a sprinkling of Old Bay.

"Now, I understand," I told Pap. "They had to bake this."

There were lovely pieces of crab in the dip and we slathered our bread thickly. Although clearly overshadowed by the dip, the bread was truly delicious, with a crisp crust on the outside and soft bread on the inside.

Pap's Tour of Italy and my panini came as we finished the dip. The panini had pieces of grilled chicken breast and melted Swiss cheese oozing from the side. The bread was thin and crisp just as a panini should be.

On the inside, the chicken was very moist. It had a distinctive flavor that I could not quite place -- tarragon, maybe? It was topped by pesto and red onion. Frankly, I thought the red onion was too much. It was cut thickly and its strong flavor overpowered the more delicate ones in the sandwich. I took it off the second half of the panini and liked the taste much better.

Meanwhile, Pap was plowing through his tour of Italy. He allowed me to sample each of the dishes. The chicken parmigiana featured golden brown, breaded chicken. It was nicely seasoned and the chicken was tender. The manicotti was stuffed with ricotta cheese. I loved its grainy, rich texture. The last bite was of the homemade lasagna, in which I was a tad disappointed. There were a lot of noodles compared to the filling. All the dishes were topped with a tasty, if not memorable, tomato sauce.

Our waitress, unfortunately, also had to tend to the birthday party crowd, so we were well into our meal when the garlic bread arrived. But, like the other breads in our dinner, it was great.

As I finished my panini, I looked over at Pap, who was scraping the last bits of cheese and sauce from his plate.

"Did you eat the whole Tour of Italy?" asked the friendly fellow who rang up our check.

"Wow!" he said to Pap's confirmation. "I'm impressed. That's a lot of food."

Good food, good atmosphere, outstanding bread. That's my take on Fratelli's.

Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail freelance writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Restaurant review

Fratelli Italian Pizzeria & Grill

3  1/2 (out of 5)

Food: 3 1/2

Service: 3

Ambiance: 3

Value: 3 1/2

Address: 120 E. Oak Ridge Drive, Hagerstown

Phone: 301-393-8733

Hours:  11 am. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday

Food: Italian, pizza and Mexican. Many vegetarian options.

Bathrooms: Large, but a bit worn. No accessibility issues.

Parking and handicapped accessibility: Plenty of parking outside the restaurant in the shopping center.

Reservations: Not necessary.

Website:  http://www.fratellipizzeriaandgrill.com

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