Williamsburg red-sauce restaurant Frost at 193 Frost Street, at Humboldt Street, is closing at the end of service on Sunday, several employees confirmed. The restaurant opened in 1959, and today the family-owned spot is known for its chicken Siciliana, pasta al forno, warm service, and Jeopardy! on TV in lieu of a playlist.
There was a time when Williamsburg’s Bamonte’s was so popular — it must have been during the period when The Sopranos was airing — that the average person couldn’t get in for love or money. During those days, diners often drifted over to nearby Frost instead, where a spare atmosphere prevailed, and aficionados of red-sauced Neapolitan cuisine knew that the food was substantially better.
While Bamonte’s had been founded in 1902, Frost — named after the Williamsburg street — didn’t open for another 50 or so years. Its exterior looked like a concrete bunker, while inside the original rendition, eventually updated, a counter framed a utilitarian entranceway hung with plaques from various Naples sports clubs.
The dining room itself was massive and convivial, with orange walls and arched windows that looked out on some of the emptiest streets in Williamsburg. A bar at one end was nearly the only decorative feature besides a mural of Naples and a TV tuned to CNN or Jeopardy, and the waiters all seemed to have been there since the restaurant’s early days. The ceiling was excessively stuccoed.
The food was so good it overwhelmed the plain decor. All the standards of the red-sauced cuisine were available in superior (and usually cheaper) renditions than the other Italian restaurants in town: crumb-laden baked littlenecks with plenty of fragrant broth; eggplant rollatini bulging with fresh cheese swimming in marinara; seafood salads dappled with a half-dozen sea creatures; artichokes the size of auto batteries fit to appetize an entire table; and filled pastas, like those from Italian American mamas: lasagna, baked ravioli, and manicotti, that form the heart of the cuisine.
My favorite dish was called chicken Siciliana, and it had no red sauce at all. Rather, bone-in pieces lay in an oily broth with so much garlic that it burned your mouth. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in any Neapolitan restaurant.
Maybe it was the unexpected fillips that came with every meal that I’ll remember most. A plate of sauteed long green chiles would arrive at the start of a meal — they were so damn hot — hinting at culinary origins far south of Naples. And a bread basket constantly replenished spilled over with slices of a seeded Italian baguette and sometimes focaccia. No saucers of olive oil here.
When the end of the meal arrived and we’d finished our spumoni or a perfect crackling cannoli, a cup of espresso came with a surprise: a bottle of dodgy anisette liqueur that could be added without charge to “correct” the coffee, as the Italian expression goes.
We hear of places closing all the time, and become easily inured to it. Doesn’t a restaurant have an expected life span, like any living thing? Perhaps, but the closing of Frost is quite a blow.