- Alex Springer
August is typically when I start getting excited for Salt Lake's Festa Italiana (festaitalianaslc.com). But like most of the events I'm used to getting excited about, the event has been cancelled due to COVID-19. As my annual circadian rhythm has me craving Italian food like crazy right now, I thought it would be a good time to check in with the longtime Festa Italiana collaborators at Fratelli Ristorante (8612 S. 1300 East, 801-495-4550, fratelliutah.com). The team recently uprooted from their location of over 12 years inside the Quarry Bend Shopping Center to a brand-new space on the corner of 8600 South and 1300 East, and the new digs are looking pretty good on them.
Along with a crisp, white-tile aesthetic wrapped around a gorgeous wood-burning pizza oven, Fratelli has added an Italian deli and gelateria to its concept. It's a clever way to make use of the additional space, and any place that offers tasty Italian sundries a little further south is most welcome. The deli helps cater to those looking for something quick like a muffaletta ($11) or a meatball sandwich ($10), which come with a side of pasta salad. The muffaletta is a solid representation of this classic Italian sandwich that includes a holy trinity of salami, capicola and prosciutto combined with Havarti and provolone cheese before getting slathered with some homemade olive tapenade. The combo of meat and cheese on this sandwich is fantastic, and the roll is speckled with toasted sesame seeds which add a nice, nutty flavor to the sandwich. I would have liked the olive tapenade to be a bit spicier; I love it when a muffaletta punches me in the mouth like Tony Soprano.
The meatball sandwich comes topped with sautéed onions, red peppers, marinara and mozzarella cheese, and it's a fantastic intro to the meatballs at Fratelli. When combined with Fratelli's marinara sauce, these hulking meatballs evoke vivid old-world flavors. The meatball sandwich is a great way to enjoy them, but it's also possible to get these meaty darlings in several other dishes. I have a great affection for the meatballs and sausage ($10) appetizer—both proteins are great in pasta or on sandwiches, but there's something special about serving them up with naught but a blanket of rich marinara. I think the sausage barely edges out the meatballs—they're excellently seasoned, and have enough heat to add an extra kick to the flavor.
For those looking for a meatless appetizer that maintains the shape and overall lovability of Fratelli's meatballs, the arancini ($11) are great options. For those who have not experienced arancini, these traditional Sicilian snacks—made from a starchy sphere of rice and deep fried until it's golden and crispy just before getting topped with marinara—are Italian all-stars. Fratelli does a fine job of preserving the deep-fried glory of this classic; they're fried to perfection on the outside while remaining soft and flavorful on the inside.
There are three main options that face you when deciding upon the main event of a dining experience at Fratelli. Do you make use of that lovely pizza oven and order up a personal pie? Do you select from their menu of traditional pasta dishes? Or do you go all out and order up a classic Italian entrée for a few bucks more? As one who has ventured all three paths, allow me to offer some advice.
If it's pizza you're craving, the Fratelli ($12 , pictured) is the way to go. It sports the quintessentially European coiffure of pear and prosciutto topped with a fistful of arugula, making it a solid representation of Italian flavors. The crust is marvelous—it's springy, chewy and adds just the right amount of neutral flavor to balance out the rest of the party. As the crust is a foundational part of any pizza, it's hard to go wrong with a pie at Fratelli. If you're craving something that's more savory-on-savory, the spicy meatball ($13) and the Calabrese ($13) are full of meat and cheese goodness.
I'm a tad biased when it comes to pasta—if gnocchi is on the menu, that's usually what I'm getting. Lucky for me, Fratelli's gnocchi gorgonzola ($15) is a top-notch representation of what I love about these tater-based dumplings. As wonderful as gorgonzola cheese is, it's a flavor that can overwhelm a dish without a bit of consideration. I liked how the gorgonzola plays backup to the foreground flavors of sautéed spinach, walnuts and the gnocchi themselves. It's a light, creamy vehicle for those gnocchi that I regard so highly. You're safe with any of the dinner entrees at Fratelli, though I like the lemony, buttery notes of their chicken piccata ($17), and their eggplant parmigiana ($18) absolutely nails what this dish is supposed to be.
Though it's a shame that we'll have to wait one more year for another Festa Italiana, it does make me grateful to see that tasty, traditional Italian food isn't too far away. I'll just spend this year hosting my own Italian Festival made up of Italian takeout and Martin Scorsese movies.