I hadn’t visited Francesco’s, the Maitland ristorante and pizzeria, since it opened in 2012, so I thought it was time to go back and see how it’s doing.
Nicely, for the most part.
The restaurant was doing brisk business on a recent cold and drizzly night with people glad to accept outdoor tables. My guest and I preferred a table inside and waited patiently between the host stand and the counter of the open kitchen, which was strewn with packets of tablecloths (though tables were covered with sheets of paper), bins of flatware and various wine bottles, some full, some not.
Once seated, we ordered a pizza, the carne pazza, as a starter course. Just as when the restaurant first opened, the pizza was first rate. The crust was a perfect thickness and had a nice crispy quality. The tomato sauce was ladled on at just the right amount and it was topped with plenty of pepperoni, sausage and ham and enough mozzarella to create a cheesy strings when a slice was pulled away. Good pie, but at $20 a pricy appetizer.
And as long was we’re talking prices, I want to point out that Francesco’s isn’t the least expensive dining experience – antipasti from $15.50; secondi $22.50-$31 – but the food quality is commensurate with the cost. However, if a restaurant is charging those prices it really should offer better napkins than the flimsy paper ones provided here. You want to use paper? Fine, but make it a better quality than something you’d find in a cheap diner.
For my main course I chose the vitello parmigiana, an impressive piece of meat, breaded and sauteed and topped with a pulpy marinara sauce and melted mozzarella. With a side of spaghetti, it was enough for two. And since I mentioned prices before, at $22.75 this was a bargain.
My guest chose the rigatoni puttanesca, which had the big tubes tossed with black Gaeta olives, a little bit of anchovy, capers and just enough marinara to coat the pasta. The rigatoni was cooked short of al dente but overall it was a good dish.
Service was good, and I enjoyed the singing food runner who added to the atmosphere. That atmosphere includes a decor that brings to mind an Italian wine canteen in disrepair. The main dining room is dominated by an open kitchen where chef/owner Francesco Aiello holds forth.
When I first reviewed Francesco’s, I noted its proximity to the fine Antonio’s La Fiamma. At the time, a restaurant called SoNapa was next door. That space then was occupied briefly by Blackfin and is now home to Luke’s. In just the past year or so, Maitland City Centre opened nearby with its array of dining venues.
Who knew Maitland would become a dining destination?