I want to love Fresco Pizza & Pasta so badly. I’ve been here a number of times, hoping that a visit would just win me over. Not only because of its proximity to my home, and being located in the quaint and always lovely Haile Village Center, but because it’s an absolutely charming little neighborhood bistro. At least some of that credit though, goes to Sisters, the neighborhood brunch favorite that used to occupy the space where Fresco currently operates. Not much has changed. Its small dining room, classic minimalist décor, ample windows for natural light, and small outdoor dining area make this a restaurant space that feels like it belongs on Mainstreet USA.
Oh, and in case you are wondering; yes, this is indeed the same Fresco that used to be over on 34th Street that closed some years ago. And yes, this is the same owner as fellow Haile Village Center occupant, Limerock Road. But much like its sister restaurant, I’m not quite sure how to feel about the food. I especially don’t know how I feel about the strange menu categories like “Municipal Meals” and “Urban Dinners”. I mean, what is that supposed to mean? It’s also a minefield of a menu, and bear with me on this analogy.
The Sicilian Chicken Pasta here, much like it was at Fresco’s previous incarnation is a hit. Grilled chicken breast, spinach, tomatoes, chives, and a spicy cream sauce (not spicy) over linguine for $12.95 is both a good-sized portion, and a very tasty dish. I would highly recommend it. But the Chicken Picatta is entirely way too heavy on the lemon, and way too tart. The salads are large and fairly priced with the most expensive being $10.95, and that’s because it’s covered with ham, pepperoni, mozzarella, and provolone. But the Pasta Fagioli is awful, and is more marinara sauce and overcooked bits of pasta, than an actual soup. The Chicken Montego (chicken breast, sundried tomatoes, white mushrooms, pesto cream sauce over fettuccine) is another delicious dish, but the Mushrooms & Scallions Pasta with olive oil and bits of garlic for $9.95 is a grossly overpriced kid’s meal for an adult. Starting to get the picture?
The rest of the menu fills out like your classic American Italian joint with calamari, salads, pastas, and…hummus? Wait what? There’s also an option for build-your-own-pasta with quite a few choices, and a selection of both specialty pizzas and build-your-own pizzas. The pizzas here are pretty good if you’re looking for what is essentially New York style. It wasn’t particularly spectacular for me, but a solid pie. For those of us who live in the Haile area, it’s a far better option than I Love NY Pizza and about on par with Piesano’s. Try the Meateater, a gratuitous pizza of pepperoni, Italian sausage, meatballs, genoa salami, and Canadian bacon. Yes, that is an actual pizza they offer.
But perhaps the biggest crime of all is their bar. For a small neighborhood restaurant that’s locally owned, charming, and in an affluent area, the beer selection is…inexcusably poor. On tap are Bud Light, Peroni, and Sweetwater IPA. In bottles and cans are Bud Light, Budweiser, Coors, Michelob, and Miller Lite with about 6 craft beers commonly found at Publix. No local brews. No decent drafts. Even TGI Friday’s carries Swamp Head.
Oh, and then there’s a little issue about the wine. Despite having a small selection of wines available, there are no wine glasses to be found in the restaurant. Instead, the wine is served in highball glasses (essentially your standard restaurant water glasses). I Now, while I’m told this is sometimes found at mom and pop restaurants in remote parts of Italy, I don’t quite get it here. To me, it seems like a cost-cutting measure under the guise of a misguided attempt at rustic Italian countryside charm. It’s just a shame that a restaurant that’s prime for a quiet lovely evening of wine and pasta, can’t even stock proper wine glasses.
All this said, I’ve had wonderful service here each of the handfuls of times I’ve visited, and the good on the menu are very good. But the bad are also equally very bad. It’s frustrating to see a restaurant that’s so close to being a very good spot, and yet just not quite there. They can start by fixing that bar. Fresco can be very lovely if you order the right item and don't plan on drinking.