Fratelli’s has little interest in remaking the burger; its goal is just to make it good.
By Karen Deutsch
71 Washington St., Providence, 273-2462, facebook.com/fratellisbgnb. Hours Lunch and dinner seven days a week. Wheelchair accessible. Street and lot parking. Cuisine Burgers and ice cream. Capacity Seventy. Vibe 1950s soda jerk gets a liquor license. Prices Appetizers $5–$12; entrees $7–$12; dessert $4–$8. Karen’s picks What else? Burgers and ice cream.
Washington Street has become a hub for modernized American cuisine. At one end, Gracie’s and birch have cornered the elevated approach and, at the other, fast food has slowed down just enough to reclaim dinner. While everyone appreciates the stylized plating of the west end of the street — which prods food forward past its theoretical limits — there’s no shame in admitting that Americans live on burgers and pizza.
Such mainstays are the common culinary denominator between generations, as appealing to a child as an octogenarian and capable of bridging the gap between the two. (No longer are we distinguished by education or life experience; now it’s simply a shared penchant for ketchup or the love of a crispy crust.) Of course, there are numerous interpretations of the perennial classics and not all of them succeed. Some are a downright perversity (cue turkey burger). Others are so heightened — foie gras, truffles, lobster, even caviar — that they do little to make diners nostalgic for the original.
Fratelli’s has little interest in remaking the burger; its goal is just to make it good. Mission accomplished. Though there’s an expansive bar in the front of the restaurant and weekends bring a singles crowd huddled around martini glasses, the simple back room — booths, chairs, congenial staff — is more indicative of the restaurant’s stance. Essentially, Fratelli’s is a dressed up burger and ice cream joint, informal but worthy of a weekend outing. A dozen gelato flavors sit in an old-fashioned ice cream case near the doorway, the very manifestation of good humored reminiscence. This may not be the soda jerk era — tiramisu and banana toffee are well beyond Neapolitan — but it does embrace a simplicity that not only appeals to diners but attracts them.
There’s a good story behind the organic beef: it comes from an Amish purveyor in Pennsylvania, is ground daily at Fratelli’s and has a mystique that even the staff appreciates. (“The Amish aren’t concerned with modernity,” says an eager young man. “They are keeping a serious eye on that beef.”) There may be an element of truth in there; the burgers are deeply flavorful, even when served with little more than an Olga’s bun. There are, however, a few more eclectic options: fried eggs, avocado, jalapenos. And then there’s the homage to Rhode Island: a burger covered in caramelized onions, mozzarella, crispy salami and served between two toasted pizza strips. It sounds like a dare and looks like a novelty but it tastes darn good, even to a purist. After all, if the basic burger is as good as this one, there’s not much you can do to ruin the experience and a whole lot that’s agreeable ornamentation.
Fries are, of course, requisite and plenty. Sweet potato, truffle fries and retro tater tots are all good as are a host of other non-burger options but, really, why? Cocktails are allowed but everything tastes better with a beer here, including the sublime housemade gelato. The good life is so simple.