The warm, simple interior of Fratellos was a lovely contrast to the long, slushy walk from Lawrence. Although it’s roughly a twenty-minute walk from campus, it is definitely worthwhile for a unique date or dinner with friends.
The building that houses Fratellos used to be the “Vulcan Street Plant,” the world’s first hydroelectric plant built according to Thomas Edison’s plans. It is, like most buildings down by the Fox River, a beautiful, tawny brick building with enormous windows that look directly over the river. The bar and the restaurant are in separate but closely connected wings of the building. The restaurant half is split into two levels, with an outdoor patio area for the summer. The otherwise almost drab interior is brightened by abstractly boat-shaped colored glass lighting fixtures—I can’t call them chandeliers—and wall art.
A pleasant surprise in this reserved restaurant was the crayons provided on every table. Even more of a surprise was our waiter writing his name upside-down on our paper table cover as an aid to our apparently suspect memories. My companions and I took our time deciphering and selecting from the extensive but confusing menu. It has “table snacks,” appetizers, soups and salads followed by separate sections for pasta dishes, sandwiches, burgers, meat dishes, comfort food, pizzas and freshly caught fish. There is also, unsurprisingly for a restaurant with an attached bar, a long wine and spirits list.
Our appetizers were, despite the gaping chasm of cultural difference that lay between them, both superb. The bruschetta were a balance between pleasantly acidic tomato with balsamic dressing and crisp buttery bread with fresh mozzarella. The fried cheese curds were deformed white gobs of salty, fried heaven.
Then came our entrées, unique on different shaped plates. My wasabi salmon sandwich on ciabatta bread was wonderful: creamy, but not overpoweringly rich, and filled with tender salmon. The “healthy side” for the entrée consisted of slices of pear with a sprinkle of salad greens and some lavender honey. The pear was far from ripe but surprisingly refreshing. Although their pizza flavors seem rather non-traditional, they are obviously handmade, and the Pesto Chicken pizza my friend ordered tasted rather delicious. Their Mac & Cheese is good, and its high cheese content speaks of Wisconsin patriotism. It does, however, have a really nice hint of garlic that I wasn’t expecting.
The desserts we ordered were good, but nothing particularly inspired. The S’more Pot de Créme was a thick chocolate mousse-ish concoction with appropriate marshmallow and graham cracker decoration. The Apple Crisp was tongue-searingly hot and a bit oily, but otherwise fruity and well-spiced.
I would definitely return to Fratellos, especially for a family dinner or end-of-term outing with friends. It’s not cheap, but the food is truly good and the wait staff is kind and efficient.