Food review: Franco's is what a pizza place should be

Old-fashioned pizza finds a new home



    Address: 1221 W. Boise Ave.

    Phone: (208) 344-5144


    Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

    Menu price range: appetizers, salads and sandwiches $4.50-$8; pizzas $14-$21.95.

    Libation situation: beer and wine

    Kid friendly? Yes

    Wheelchair accessible? Yes.

    Opened: February 2013, moved to current location in April 2014

When you step into Franco's NY Style Pizzeria, you feel as though you have arrived in a simpler time, when someone might have turned their house into a restaurant. The dining space feels like the rooms of a grandparent's home, compartments divided by a cornice of 1960s brown stone tile. A faux fireplace glows in the back room. The restaurant is filled with black tables, a few numbered on the sides, and vintage, vivid orange chairs, perhaps original to the building. Pots of herbs spiral up an old plant stand. Overhead, the low ceiling is a field of plaster swirls.

Yet, there also are contemporary elements such as a pair of flat-screens and a new slate floor. After all, this isn't really Grandma's house. But as my wife and I sat under a wrought iron chandelier having pizza one night, the overall effect was one of familiarity, comfort, and ease. There is no posturing, no reflection of current food trends. Franco's isn't trying to reinvent pizza, and I'm grateful the space wasn't gutted in its newest incarnation.

The building could tell stories, among them cautionary tales about business: It has been a Mexican restaurant, a Cajun-Creole-Southern restaurant, and most recently, a pizza parlor with pies covered in unusual toppings such as mac and cheese and slices of corn dogs. In this neighborhood, this close to Boise State, I couldn't figure out why the pizza place wasn't packed. But it may be that Franco's has the model to make a long run here. The pizza is delicious.

Owner Richard Franco has brought his pizza oven, thin crusts, and intense red sauce to this location from a mile down the street. But the origins are back east, in his home state of Connecticut.

The menu keeps it simple: 14- and 18-inch pies start at $14 for cheese only, and on up to $21.95 for one of the five specialty pizzas. The Balboa is pepperoni, sausage, and house-made meatballs; the Bronco is chicken, blue cheese and spicy buffalo sauce; the Francorita is olive-oil-based, with ricotta, mozzarella, tomato, basil and crushed red pepper.

Our table along the floorlength front windows was too small to accommodate the massive pizza we'd ordered, so our server set it on the next empty table over. This meant standing to serve ourselves, as though at a private buffet. We didn't mind, but wondered what would happen if the room was full.

We built our own pie from a list of expected toppings, 75 cents for each vegetable, $1.50 for each meat (you are charged even if the one item covers only half of the pizza). The ingredients were fresh and not at all scant, as they sometimes are on New York-style pizza. Here, more is more. Best among everything we tried were the house-made meatballs, cut into slices.

We liked the crust immediately, chewy but with a nice crunch on the bottom - a little doughier than expected but with good flavor. What separates Franco's from the pack is the sauce - sweet and deep, a vibrant red like tomatoes in summer. We asked for a side of it and scooped it with almost every bite.

The thing about pizza: Every opinion is full of passion. To some, this might be the New York pie of memory. And for others, it may be too thick or too saucy. Provenance aside, we felt it was perfectly composed.

Franco's also sells huge calzones and pizza by the slice ($3), with a daily offering such as sausage and green pepper or basics such as pepperoni or cheese.

Most unusual are the pizza "bawlz" ($5), a crisped softball of dough, cheese and meats served with marinara. "It's basically a pizza deep-fried," our server told another table who could not envision it. "It's pretty much the best thing ever," she said, and in the end, everyone agreed, including us.

On a solo visit, I was less excited about the antipasto salad ($7.50), a huge pile of spring mix but with just two slices each of ham, salami and pepperoni. Under the fresh greens was a base of pre-bagged iceberg lettuce mix that smelled of the fridge. On each occasion, we found the dressings tasted mass-produced. Clearly the emphasis is elsewhere.

This was more than redeemed by the chicken parmesan sandwich ($8), an oven-crusty hoagie, split and filled with breaded chicken, marinara, and goopy cheese. Surprisingly, the chicken is chopped into bite-size pieces, then crumbed and fried, an interesting technique that gets more flavor into the sandwich - and probably more calories and sodium, but if this is of great concern, you aren't this restaurant's target audience.

On that visit I saw what the crowd here can be: college kids with a day's worth of scruff watching the World Cup, a table of older ladies, and some teenagers with their mom. Some friends who live in the neighborhood tell me they come here all the time, and I can see why. It's exactly what you want a pizza place to be.

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