Review: Frank & Helen's Pizzeria in University City
Neighborhood Italian spot Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria is known for three things: chicken, pizza and a cozy, unpretentious interior that has remained fairly unchanged for 58 years. With a smoked-glass mirror lining one long wall and turquoise accent partitions, Frank & Helen’s vintage dining room is perfect for Tony Soprano but has stood long enough to welcome a young Tony Bennett.
“Broasted” Chicken is the Bomb
Pizza is in the name, but it’s the chicken that’ll make you a regular. Frank & Helen’s is famous for its chicken  that is “broasted,” a 12-hour process that simultaneously pressure-cooks and flash-fries the bird. The meat comes out super-juicy while the skin stays crispy, making traditional fried chicken seem parched in comparison. While an appetizer of wings is fried, not broasted, it tasted plenty juicy. Consider ordering the wings in the spicy sauce, which is actually a subtle butter marinade that enhances rather than masks the salty, crunchiness of the skin. No dipping sauce required.
Pizza on a stone
The most popular pizza crust is thin, which is on the thin side of medium (Frank & Helen’s “extra-thin” is the infamous St. Louis cracker-crust we know so well.). Regulars love this thin crust, cooked in the oven on a hot stone, but your mileage may vary. The dough itself did not set my world afire, but it was baked to a nice chew, and the extra-thin was nice and crispy. (A 1-inch thick crust is available, too, at no extra charge.) Pizzas, cut into small squares, are topped with a choice or combination of mozzarella, Provel, cheddar, Parmesan or Gorgonzola. “Frank’s Special”  features nearly every topping on the menu, with five different meats bonded by tomatoes and the snap of raw onion, plus anchovies, green peppers, garlic, black olives and mushrooms. It’s a hearty meat-bomb that satisfies.
Garlic and more garlic
The house salad was what you might expect from a local Italian spot – iceberg and romaine lettuce, croutons, Parmesan cheese and red onions with a single tomato wedge, artichoke heart and pickled pepperoncini guarding the perimeter. It’s Frank & Helen’s House Creamy Garlic dressing, though, that will have you ordering this salad again. It’s powerfully garlicky (as in, so garlicky it will sting your tongue) and super tangy – you could get finicky kids to eat just about anything dunked in this stuff. Hell, I’d eat tomato slices dipped in it all day long. There are plenty of delicious Italian house dressings in town, but this one is habit-forming.
Pasta is served as per usual in a white or red sauce. The latter – with or without meat – was average, and the disappointing mac-n-cheese tasted like Velveeta right out of the box. Sweet potato fries were perfectly crunchy.
Lunch specials, including pizza, calzones and sandwiches, come with two sides, salad or soup. None of them will leave you hungry, and the calzone may necessitate a nap. The half-chicken is here, too, offering a juicy, golden respite from workday concerns. Speed of service varies widely but expect brisk, competent servers during the busy lunchtime.
With juicy, crispy broasted chicken, an addictive house salad dressing and serviceable pizza, Frank & Helen’s is more than a neighborhood joint. Locals in-the-know have been sliding into these booths for generations. If you can’t let your hair down at Frank & Helen’s, you might need some sort of animal tranquilizer. The thoroughly unpretentious dining room – with its gold-flecked Formica tables and large parties of U. City families enjoying the scene – is a bubble trapped in the amber of an earlier era. When your salad arrives with a “cracker boat” on the side, it’s not some ironic hipster nostalgia – it’s just old-school cool.
More stories like this
Review: De Palm Tree in St. Louis
After surviving 18 years in the same location with a loyal clientele and now facing new ...
Review: Taste of Persia on South Grand
Taste of Persia's gracious front-of-house style is as appealing as owners Mohammad and Sofiya Abdolrezagh's homestyle ...