For my third post-blog "Who Goes There?" I went to a Williamsburg Italian mainstay, Frost. Most old Italian restaurants have Italian-sounding names like Gino and Bamonte's. Frost, on the face of it, sounds like the name of a cool, modern joint. Until you realized they just named the place after the street it's on, Frost Street.
On another note, I've added former "Who Goes There?" subject Fedora to the "Recently Lost Landmarks" tally. It closed on July 25. I tried to make it, but couldn't. Some friends were leaving town that night and it was my duty (and pleasure) to wish them well and say goodbye.
Who Goes There? Frost
Eating at Frost, the 59-year-old Italian survivor on a residential intersection of eastern Williamsburg, is sort of like eating at someone's house, the kind of home where the father won't turn off the television during the meal. The single dining room is boxy and open; there's no hiding from anybody. And, as if you were in a bar, there's a TV set perched near the ceiling by the kitchen. The soundtracks of sitcoms and commercial jingles fill in for the missing muzak. The large parties settle into their seats and hash over talk about family, friends and the neighborhood. One foursome grilled an embarrassed young lady about her college choices. Another teenager ate his entire meal with his Yankees cap on. The only suit jackets or ties in sight were on the waiters.
Certainly, one party of five older men felt entirely at home. Dressed in polo shirts, t-shirts and baggy gym shorts, they walked in with a sense of entitled familiarity, made a beeline for their regular table and settled their ample frames into the pressed-wood chairs. "What's everyone looking at?" said the clear leader of the group with a menacing chuckle. "A good-looking guy!" retorted a member of a nearby all-women table celebrating a birthday.
The staff at Frost is generally efficient and solicitous, but they sped up their act for the new arrivals. Menus, water, and mountains of chewy fresh bread were dropped on the table in a split-second. One of the men slipped a busboy a bill, the intention being they were to be taken good care of. They were. As they probably had been the night before, when they also ate at Frost. Orders were placed with barely a glance at the menu, which is dominated by seafood, though there's plenty of chicken and veal as well. All comes with a side dish of pasta—you know the drill.
It doesn't seem that the menu has changed much since Frost opened in 1959. People from over the decades rave about the shrimp fra diavolo and baked clams. Portions are large. The antipasto plates could serve several people, but it seemed they were being ordered for individual consumption. Even an order of a Pespi brings a 20-ounce bottle, which is poured into a glass of ice. The half-filled cola is then left on the table, as if it were a bottle of wine. "Make everything come separate," said the leader of the five men, who called one busboy by the nickname of Puccini. The salad came and was demolished. The soup (escarole and beef) was bent over and consumed. Barely a minute passed between courses. I had filled up on a single entree (shrimp scampi—yum); these guys were champs.
The customers Frost have today are basically the customers they had years ago: local, loyalists and largely Italian-American, folks who aren't looking for any culinary, aesthetic or social adventures. Many former regulars still travel miles from Staten Island and New Jersey to eat there. For those who are not fans of the blandly unthreatening, "fine-dining" decor—so dispiritingly anonymous and so typical of Italian holdouts like this—there's a take-out counter next door. So you can eat Frost at home. And feel like you're at Frost. Which feels like you're at home. Be sure to turn on the TV.
—Brooks of Sheffield