At 9 o'clock on a Saturday night, every seat at Frank & Dino's is full. A singer named Ron Jones is channeling Sinatra — and Prince, Gloria Gaynor and Donna Summer — and the crowd is eating it up, along with overflowing plates of classic Italian-American restaurant fare.
Carlo Vaccarezza, a restaurateur whose resume includes stops in New York, Miami Beach and Boca Raton, says Frank & Dino's was an instant hit in this restaurant-starved stretch of North Broward. For many years, the property was home to Marcello Ristorante.
Frank and Dino, as in Sinatra and Martin, smile down from the 30 or so gorgeous black-and-white photos that hang on rust-colored paneled walls throughout the restaurant. There are also lots of photos of the thoroughbred horses that Vaccarezza breeds and races. Oversize lamp shades balloon from the ceiling. One side of the restaurant is home to a bar that glows blue. If you're not in the mood for the four-night-per-week live music, there's a quieter room at the other end of the restaurant. It can be set for private parties of up to 24. As was the case when we dined, the room included a half-dozen tables.
Two fine chefs work here: Tonino Orsino, formerly of Casa D'Angelo and La Veranda, and Peter Masiello, formerly of BOVA. They understand crowd-pleasing Italian.
Our meal starts with pepperoncini ripieni ($11), hot finger peppers stuffed with sausage, breaded, fried and served with bright marinara. Meatballs ($13) are good, though ground a little too finely for my tastes. Fried calamari ($13.50) is popular at our table with the same marinara.
The kitchen is a little heavy-handed with salad dressings, though the flavors are all there in a classic Caesar ($12) and another creation called Gorgonzola mista ($12), which includes iceberg, cucumber, croutons, oregano, cherry tomatoes and white balsamic vinegar.
Deciding what to eat here is made easier when our waiter tells us that half orders of pasta are available. The restaurant also offers several kinds of gluten-free and whole-wheat pasta. We settle on standard cheese ravioli ($19/whole, $12/half) with cream, butter, Parmesan and a pinch of nutmeg and tomato. A special one night was penne with cauliflower ($12/half) capers, lemon, butter and anchovies. It is incredible.
Pollo scarpariello ($26) is a perfect rendition of this restaurant classic, with garlic, sausages, vinegar peppers, olive, onions and roasted potatoes. Braised short ribs ($29.50) are fall-apart rich and served over potato puree and wild mushrooms. Shrimp saltimbocca ($39.50) features oversize shrimp wrapped in bacon. While the shrimp are nicely cooked, the bacon is dry and overcooked. Here's a dish that would do better with thinly sliced pancetta instead of what seems like American-style bacon. It's served, however, with wonderful risotto with peas and asparagus.
A salmon special ($34) features a perfectly cooked fillet in a mustard sauce with greens. It's incredible and ought to be a regular part of the menu.
We're served by a restaurant professional, but on this night, I believe he's overtaxed. Other servers walk by our table but don't remove dirty plates. There ought to be some teamwork here. A manager, however comes by our table twice during the meal to see how we're doing. That seems like an easy enough task, but too many restaurant managers disengage from guests once they're seated. Not here.
On Sundays, the restaurant also offers a family-style menu with dishes to be shared by two or three people. They include penne alla vodka ($30), pollo parmigiana ($36) and salmon Livornese ($42). Most of the regular menu dishes, however, are big enough to share, especially dessert.
We order Frank & Dino's cake ($11), chocolate cake with chocolate cream filling with Italian cherries between each layer and classic cassata ($11), the boozy sponge cake with nuts and cream I can't say enough good about.
While the restaurant seats 130, it feels much bigger when the place is full and the singer is serenading the room. For most diners, that seems like a good part of Frank & Dino's appeal. You come for dinner but get caught up in the music. You also can't help hearing the diners' New Jersey accents, which makes me think Sinatra would have felt right at home.
Frank and Dino
718 S. Federal Highway, Deerfield Beach
Hours: Lunch weekdays, dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Noisy when music is featured
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Complimentary lot or valetCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun