There's a slice of pizza for every occasion: the football game and a beer slice, the college all-nighter slice, the kids' sleepover slice, the fancy date night slice. Each pie tied to a moment of nostalgia, a sense memory that endears the simple Itianian street-food to our culture and cements it as a staple of American life.
Perhaps no pizza occasion sits higher upon the mantle of memorable (or immemorable) pizza moments than the late-night, post-bar slice of pie. The cheap, ready-made triangle of thin crust and shiny grease that tastes, at that moment, like pure unadulterated joy.
In Houston, no establishment does that slice better than Frank's. Frank's Pizza is an old-school Manhattan-style pie joint in downtown's historic district, known for long lines of mind-altered patrons seeking refuge in a mouthful of mozzarella. Nestled in its 150-year-old digs it shares with next-door neighbor, El Big Bad, this no-frills late-night pie counter is no more than 15 feet wide from wall to wall — though, its long footprint extends all the way through the historic building.
Despite extremely fast service and cheap slices ($3 for most of the basics), these are no fly-by-night pies. Hand-tossed, scratch-made dough bakes to a satisfying outer crunch, keeping a characteristically soft and pliable center — folding is a must. Sauce, also housemade daily, is present but not overtly so. A well-balanced pie if I've ever had one.
I was surprised to find the place busy during a mid-afternoon rush — prior experiences being of the less sober variety. Thankfully, the daytime line (even at lunchtime) doesn't compare to the queues at night which regularly makes its way out the front door.
Within 5 minutes I was seated with two slices and a root beer. In all, I was out the door in under 20.
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While no gustatory revelation, the classic cheese is more than serviceable. In fact, for a $3 meal (if you call once slice a meal), it ranks right up there among the best value menu items in Houston. The sausage and pepperoni meat special, however, is where real happiness lies. For such a thin slice, topping saturation is liberal. The thing drips grease like an old pickup, with a firm crust that rides the line between charred and bready. An exceedingly soft doughy center gives way to the crispy outer edge, making for the most satisfying New York pizza fold I've yet to find in H-town.
Frank's has a deep menu, far more extensive than most customers care to explore. You can thank their in-and-out service model for that. There is tangible pressure to order fast and move along, both by fellow customers in line and a perpetually hurried looking staff. If, however, you take the time to order something beyond the ready-made pies behind the glass, you'll find their wings and lasagna are nothing to scoff at. The former being the perfect after-hours companion to a slice of pie.
In the most walkable, charming, active part of downtown, where urban life moves at a pace more comparable to the East Coast, Frank's is an invaluable part of that charm. Walking in feels like you've stepped out of Texas and into Brooklyn. Its old bones a rarity in this knock-em-down boomtown. It's thin greasy pies a slice of something that's in short supply down here in the bayou.