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My pasta plate runneth over

Buckhead favorite Fratelli di Napoli comes to Alpharetta


Look out Olive Garden, there's a new kid in town.

Fratelli di Napoli, already an old standby for Italian family-style dining in Atlanta and Roswell, is making even more headway into the 'burbs with its newest location in Alpharetta.

Unlike the Buckhead space hidden in a converted building adjacent to the Tula art galleries off Bennett Street, the Alpharetta venue sits in the blazing daylight of suburban mall sprawl near North Point.

The cabin-like interior incorporates rustic wood treatments, high ceilings and mod lighting fixtures. The slender, sleek chandeliers look like something out of a loft in contrast to the homeyness of the warm, wood paneling and brickwork.

Having nearly triple the number of tables as that in the Buckhead location allows for less of a need for call-ahead reservations and quick seating when you walk through the door.

I gathered together a few others to enjoy the repast since one rule of thumb remains true at Fratelli -- don't dine alone. I once saw a man feebly trying to conquer his heaping plates of food (one order serves two or more people easily). He sadly attempted to shovel food from fork to mouth and loosened his belt.

The Fratelli chain keeps to its roots by sticking to the same menu as found at the Roswell and Buckhead locations. The food at all locations is consistently good, but some of the details in the Alpharetta location still need a little ironing out.

Despite knowing the entrees are potentially too much to handle on their own, we ordered the chef's spinach salad as we chowed on the fresh bread and Parmesan and olive oil on the table. The spinach leaves arrived tossed with an oily, creamy Gorgonzola dressing, mushrooms, red onions and toasted almonds. Nearly all of it was conquered.

Many of the entrees can be split into half orders so you can get a little more variety (at a fraction of the cost). The Mediterranean garlic sirloin ($28 full, $16 half) is a house specialty and a personal favorite.

The New York strips are seasoned and grilled and topped with whole garlic cloves. The balsamic-based marinade can be spooned onto your plate along with the juicy morsels. Despite the meat arriving medium, instead of medium rare as ordered, it remained at the top of the barrel.

I was especially looking forward to the shrimp parmigiana ($20 full, $12.50 half) as an alternative to the more conventional chicken parmesan. The plate looked perfect upon arrival -- over half a dozen jumbo shrimp heavily breaded in seasoned crumbs over a bed of fettuccini and topped with marinara and mozzarella.

The problem arose after taking too many bites. "The tails are still on these," my friend said with a contorted grin exposing shrimp shell.

In fact all the shrimp had been breaded without their tails removed and caused us to pick apart the breading with our forks and fingers to avoid any further mishaps and potential chokings. Hopefully next time there will be a warning or no tails intact. At the very least they could leave the tails unbreaded.

We ordered a full order of the fusilli al peperoni ($16), but should have kept to the halves. An overflowing plate of fusilli with sauteed red, green and yellow peppers, oregano, basil and sausage arrived on the table to grunts from rapidly filling bellies. The pasta was a bit oily but simple and good.

Although we were overfilled, we couldn't leave without checking out the dessert menu. We were going to pass it up until we heard the description of the chef's fruit sampler ($6). A strawberry concoction sounded like something we could handle. What arrived was nice, but a little overpriced for its execution.

Seven large berries sat atop freshly prepared, citrus-flavored whipped cream. The strawberries were great as was the cream, but it wasn't quite worth six bucks.

Still, overall, Fratelli di Napoli serves good Italian food and lots of it.

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