First Bites: Francesca’s Italian Kitchen on Ocean Drive

Is there room for another pizza and pasta joint in Central Beach not more than a couple of hundred yards from the venerable Nino’s? Chef Massimo Napoli and his wife, Carla, have put down a big bet that the answer is “yes,” and the battle for best-on-the-beach is underway.

Headline news: Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is located directly across from Humiston Park at the south end of the Ocean Drive building that is home to Kilwin’s. A first tasting of the offerings of Chef Massimo was very positive – pizza with perfect crust, arancini and homemade meatballs in a tasty marinara sauce, delicious sweet Italian sausage and peppers.

Look & Feel: While the kitchen is bright and open, the dining area is a tight fit when 20 are seated at the smallish tables. One table in the front window is fine for a party of four (or perhaps even six), but otherwise, if you are there for dining and not takeout, it’s smallish tables for two along the wall.

Food: Last week, our party of four Italian-food lovers sampled an assortment of appetizers, entrées and pizzas.

For appetizers, we tried the meatballs ($8), the arancini ($9) and the sautéed calamari ($15). The arancini – cheese stuffed risotto balls on a bed of marinara sauce – were a big hit, but my husband also was high on the calamari, tossed with a lemon garlic evoo sauce.

We then shared a 10-inch white pizza ($12). Had we not been intent on trying the homemade dinners, we probably would have ordered another half dozen pizzas. It was that good – the crust the best we’ve had in a long time.

For entrees, one of us had the real veal parm ($21) and one had the eggplant parm. These were rated OK, but I enjoyed my pappardelle with shrimp and zucchini ($20) and the tortellini alfredo ($16) drew raves. For dessert, we shared a tiramisu ($7, and absolutely wonderful) and a half chocolate chip, half pistachio cannoli ($5).

Drink: Francesca’s has an excellent selection of American and Italian wines to accompany your food, and also offers an assortment of beers.

Service: For a new restaurant, service was very attentive.

Prices: Francesca’s appetizers and salads are mostly in the $7 to $14 range. Entrées start at $12 for spaghetti in marinara sauce and top out at $22 for the shrimp risotto. Pizzas range from $10 to $18, with additional toppings extra.

Initial impressions: Is this the best pizza and red-sauce pasta joint ever to open on the island? Time will tell. But the pizza crust (and their other homemade breads and sauces) make it well worth a try. And with a little cooperation from the city, the Napolis are hoping to ultimately have a garden area for dining on the Dahlia Lane side of the building, which would be a great development.

I welcome your comments, and encourage you to send feedback to me at tina@verobeach32963.com.

The reviewer is a beachside resident who dines anonymously at restaurants at the expense of Vero Beach 32963.

Francesca’s Italian Kitchen

  • Hours: Daily except Sunday, 11 a.m. to closing
  • Beverages: Beer & Wine
  • Address: 3001 Ocean Drive, Suite 101, Vero Beach
  • Phone: 772-257-5540

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