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January 22, 2013

BUSINESS CONFIDENTIAL: At Fratela’s, it’s the small things that make this Italian restaurant excellent

JACKSONVILLE — If you get to the bottom of a huge bowl of pasta and you're still using rolls to sop up the rest of the sauce, odds are, you've just had an excellent culinary experience.

And so it was at Fratela's Italian Restaurant —  1800 South Jackson Street, Suite A — on this particular, cold, Tuesday night.

People don't sop up pasta sauce with bread because the food is mediocre. They certainly don't completely devour entire bowls of caesar salad or gobble who-knows-how-many delicious garlic rolls because the grub is "kind-of" okay.

No, what we have here is a convergence of the many little things that make up an excellent culinary experience:

• Friendly, informed, delightful waitresses;

• Timely service;

• Delicious, quality food;

• A diverse menu; and

• Affordable prices.

Pasta isn't the only amazing dish here. The quality of Fratela's pizza alone — in my opinion — could easily support a franchise.

There's also chicken parmigiana, chicken marsala and shrimp fettuccine Alfredo,

Before your entree, you could try the delicious Fratela appetizers such as fried cheese, stuffed mushrooms and chicken wings.

Fancy a sandwich? There are delicious hot subs here as well as a fully-stocked bar.

This past Tuesday I visited Fratela's with the intention of sampling some hot pasta, then taking a little something to my teenage son, who was sick with a fever at home.

I was astounded by the quality of the food, the service and the general atmosphere.

Don't get me wrong: This wasn't the honeymoon bliss of a first-timer. I've been at the restaurant several times before, usually for lunch.

As a matter of fact, the staff at the Jacksonville Daily Progress made a point last month to have their annual Christmas lunch there and it was easily the only place in town I could have envisioned for such an event.

But despite all those previous, positive experiences, Tuesday night was different — even better than before — for some reason. There was something about the way the restaurant functioned that night that simply CLICKED.

As I stated earlier, my waitress was delightful. She was eager to help, informative without being annoying, and she knew the restaurant's menu well. What she didn't know about, she simply asked a colleague who was just as eager to provide customer service.

What really pleased me as a customer was the fact that my waitress actually listened to me. When she learned I was trying to figure out what to feed my ill son, she waited a beat or two, then recommended a tasty Toscana soup with ground beef, russet potatoes, onions and carrots in cream sauce.

My son, who had been suffering from a rampant fever and a queasy stomach, adored the tasty dish.

And the bill? Not that much really. It was certainly affordable.

I've invested my own slogan for the restaurant: "At Fratela's, a bowl full of pasta is a 'bowl lot of love.'"



Reporter Ben Tinsley covers the business beat and writes the column Business Confidential for the Jacksonville Daily Progress. Have a business tip? Call Ben Tinsley at 903-586-2236 or email him at btinsley@jacksonvilleprogress.com.

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