Local West End Italian Restaurant Keeps Dedicated Customers Coming Back
By Charles Sumpter
A mainstay in Alexandria’s West End, Fratelli’s Italian Restaurant at 410 S. Van Dorn Street, has been dishing up northern Italian specialties for almost 15 years and makes you feel like family the moment you step through the door.
Butter-based sauces rich with cream grace northern Italian tables just as they do in France, but Italian chefs put their own delicious spin on them with fresh herbs and garlic. Fratelli’s does just that and if traveling abroad for authenticity isn’t in your immediate plans, a trip to Fratelli’s might just do the trick.
Roots at Geranio’s
Fratelli in Italian means brother and the name is perfect for this family-owned establishment. You see, its owners are brothers Manuel and Alex, who started in the restaurant business shortly after arriving in the United States from San Miguel, El Salvador. Shortly after departure at Dulles Airport, the two began washing dishes at Geranio’s, a popular Italian restaurant in Old Town.
The Geranio’s chef liked the boys and started teaching them everything. After about six months or so, Manuel began making pasta dishes, and in the mid-90s, the brothers opened the first Fratelli restaurant in Cheverly, Maryland, where Alex still serves as head chef.
In 2005, Fratelli’s opened their second location in Virginia, settling in Alexandria. In Alexandria, Manuel and his son Jason run the kitchen, with wife and mom Marta running the front of the house. “Our dedicated customer base is most important,” says Jason. “Our customers come from the neighborhood and some eat here two or three times a week. I have one customer who comes every night. They expect quality and that’s what we are going to give them.”
The restaurant’s impact on the surrounding community is reflected in the dedicated customers and organizations which flock to their restaurant for meetings and events. Organizations like the nearby Watergate at Landmark’s Lions Club are regulars and the Alexandria West Rotary recently held a membership drive there. “We are proud to be a neighborhood restaurant,” says Jason.
When asked about their signature dish, Jason enthusiastically suggested the Lobster Ravioli and I had to try it. While I waited for my meal, I was treated to one of my all-time favorite songs, My Way, by Frank Sinatra. As a native New Yorker, the song made me feel right at home and quite frankly, set the appropriate mood. The décor is exactly what you want at your neighborhood Italian restaurant. Soothing reds blanket the main room and as I sat, a young waitress began putting freshly cut flowers on each table.
Freshly Baked Bread, Clams Casino and Lobster Ravioli
First out was a warm batch of homemade baked bread, followed by the best clams casino I’ve ever eaten. During the meal, I had the opportunity to meet Jason’s mom, Marta, who frequently came out to check on me and my happiness. My server Mike, a recent high school graduate, was confident and attentive, as he shared his story and aspirations to one day join the military. “Working here has given me confidence,” said Mike. “Just a short time ago, I would have never been this confident, walking up to each table and talking with the customers. That would have never happened before.”
Jason later brought out the signature Lobster Ravioli with pink vodka sauce and I now understand why it’s so popular. Its light and full of flavor. The pieces of lobster were chunky and succulent and left me wanting more. From that point on, I knew I would be back.
Fratelli’s is more than just a restaurant, it’s a family. Mike told me that the staff are cooked meals daily so no one’s hungry on the job. They take care of each other and in turn, take care of the community at large. “Every night at dinner, this place is busy,” says Jason, “and that’s how we like it.” Just before I left, I stopped in the kitchen to wave goodbye to everyone. I had the opportunity to meet the chef himself, who informed me of Fratelli’s legendary Sunday brunches that I needed to try. I told them all that I would be back, not in any official capacity, but as another member of their dedicated customer base.