Food & Drink Say formaggio 

From appetizers to dessert, Fralo's Pizza piles on the cheese

Ah, wilderness! Well, maybe not exactly wilderness, but at least a few rustic picnic tables, some sheltering live oaks, and a good breeze. This is pizza al fresco at Fralo's Art of Pizza and, since any flies seem to go to bed with the sun or are otherwise kept at bay with mesh plate covers, it's a pleasant experience. Indoor seating is extremely limited, in any case, so outdoor dining may be your best bet. During inclement times, consider takeout; the pizza is worth it.

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Fralo's Art of Pizza Owner Frank Hakspiel shows off the Spanako pizza, garlic butter, gyro-like lamb slices, Roma tomatoes, Turkish kalamata olives, purple onions, and feta cheese. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

Fralo's starters also have their virtues. The chicken wings with roasted "Italian" BBQ sauce were meaty, but unexciting; try the hot-and-spicy sauce instead. However, a lightly baked goat cheese with tapenade and toasted bread sticks improved with each bite. The light, crisp sticks set off the tart cheese and the earthy olive mix perfectly. As I begin the evening's ode to cheese, it should be mentioned that the breadsticks - simple pizza dough tarted-up focaccia-style with olive oil, rosemary, and sea salt - can also be ordered solo.

Only in America, it seems, is Italian cuisine so cheesy (in the literal sense). That said, it was our fault that we selected a cheese-based salad - the classic Caprese composed of sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, which we saw as a true test of tradition - though there are many leafier options. Given that it's tomato season, the salad's Romas were only marginal, but the mozzarella di bufala, fresh basil, generous black pepper, and simple olive oil and vinegar dressing made for a plate that was both pretty and satisfying. Although Fralo's offerings are more diverse than most, it was only with some effort that we managed to select pizzas that didn't unduly advance the cheese theme.

The build-your-own pizzas start out at $10 for a small and include mozzarella and provolone. Additional ingredients are $1.25 each and include sauces such as tomato, Alfredo, basil pesto, and creamy sun-dried-tomato pesto. Cheese choices are legion, among them chevre, Gorgonzola, and Roquefort; meats range from classic pepperoni to shrimp, sage sausage, and tuna. Accent extras run the gamut from fresh spinach and basil to dried cranberries, glazed walnuts, and peppadew peppers.

Preferring to rate the kitchen's combinations rather than our own, we ordered from the Favorite Pizzas list, which includes the ultra-cheesy Lorfa's Five (mozzarella, provolone, feta, Parmesan, and Gorgonzola) and the relatively austere Margherita with mozzarella, tomato, basil, olive oil, and Parmesan. A scant tomato sauce underpins the Mediterranean pizza, an unorthodox but appealing creation of fresh baby spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and a discreet amount of feta. Yet, the most intriguing is the Spanako, featuring a garlic-butter spread topped with gyro-like lamb slices, Roma tomatoes, Turkish kalamata olives, purple onions, and feta cheese. On the optional whole-wheat crust this is a very successful pizza; you won't miss the tomato sauce and provolone at all. (One mechanical suggestion for the kitchen: Coarsely chop the olives so they don't immediately roll off the slice when it's picked up.)

Fralo's Art of Pizza
23651 I-10 West
Leon Springs
1-11pm Mon-Thu,
11am-1am Fri-Sat,
noon-11pm Sun
Price range $7-23
Major credit cards
Wheelchair accessible
The pastas are much less inventive with the exception of the sauce selection, which ranges from traditional marinara to the contemporary combination of tomato and Alfredo. Our sunny server recommended the Manicotti and Cannelloni Trio, so we bit - in spite of the manicotti's four-cheese stuffing and mozzarella and provolone topping. The Italian sausage in the cannelloni was especially good in a mild, almost fennel-seed-free way. We chose two sauces, the basic marinara and a lush, creamy, sun-dried-tomato-garlic pesto, and they worked with both pastas. In all, another winning plate.

More cheese appeared at dessert time, but only because they had run out of tiramisu. The Tall Chocolate Vanilla Turtle Cheesecake - cookie crust, chopped pecans, caramel, chocolate chips ... no, you don't want to know - can't be justified under any circumstances, though we tried by feebly pointing out how well it went with the cocoa notes in the 2002 Bennett Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon we'd brought. Be advised that Fralo's does not have a wine and beer license due to its proximity to a school. My advice? Skip dessert altogether and spend your calories on the pizza, a split salad, and a good bottle of wine; it's the updated thou-beside-me-in-the-wilderness thing to do.



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