Fran’s Place: Great things come in small packages
Warwick and Cranston residents who drive down Narragansett Blvd. to get to or from Route 95 pass a tiny former ice cream shack at 893 Allens Ave. I’ve driven by it for years and never stopped. One day I noticed a sign for hot wieners and a hand-written sign for meatballs. The three New York Hot Wieners for $5 attracted me, so I stopped and met owner Cheryl Mirabella.
“The ice cream sold well in the summer,” she said. “But I couldn’t survive in the cold weather. My boyfriend said that I make great meatballs, so I added them to the menu and then started cooking Italian dishes my mother and grandmother had taught me. Each ingredient is tastefully selected as if I were shopping for my own dinner table.”
“I was born and raised on Federal Hill and grew up watching my mother and grandmother cook,” she said. “I learned their techniques in making the most flavorable Italian food. To me, this is soul food because I put my heart and soul into each and every meal that I prepare for you. The hot wieners have my own special sauce. Now you’ve got to try the meatballs.”
The wieners were good, and I’ll get them again when I want a quick snack, but the meatballs were absolutely fantastic and will cause my car to stop often on my way to Edgewood. The meatball sandwich is served on a fresh Italian roll, covered with “gravy” and grated Romano cheese (or mozzarella if you wish). They reminded me of my Italian landlady’s back in New Haven, a taste I have been seeking for years. At $6.50 the sandwich is a bargain, along with sausage and peppers, fresh chicken salad and eggplant parmesan, all for $6.50
Fran does all her cooking in this tiny little building and has been a hit with the neighborhood. She makes her own pasta faglioli and Italian wedding soups ($3.95) and has daily specials like shepherd’s pie, clam cakes and chowder and her Italian dinners.
Cheryl’s cousin, Marie Mirabella (“Call me Fran. That’s what everyone calls me.”), is often behind the small window.
“I’ve been eating this food all my life,” she said. “The only day we’re closed is Sunday. That’s the day our entire family gathers around the dining room table. You’ve got to taste the broccoli alfredo. And the lasagna. Cheryl makes something special every week.”
A new sign suggests trying a sample of the meatballs.
“I tell people, try it. If you don’t like it, I’ll pay for it. But don’t come back and try to order it again,” Fran says.
The cousins know their customers, many coming from the neighborhood, plus surrounding businesses like Narragansett Grid, the Port Authority and, more recently, Rhode Island Hospital.
“We’re getting lots of Johnson & Wales students from out of town who never had a hot weiner or a coffee milk before,” Fran said.
They buy just about everything local, including my favorite, Warwick Ice Cream. Floats are very popular, including their latest concoctions, Rum Raisin (it tastes like the real thing) and Creamsicle, which brought back memories.
“Call ahead, ask what my specials are that day, and I’ll have them ready for you,” Cheryl said.
The take-out menu has a picture of her meatball sandwich, and it’s tough to get past the cover, which states, “Don’t let our size fool you. There is BIG taste coming from our little place.” I say amen to that.
Fran’s Place is open Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The phone number is 461-5683. They take VISA, Mastercard and Discover for items over $5.