Frankie brings Italian hot dogs to Belmont

St. Raymond graduate Ronny Barca, 22, and two friends will open Arthur Avenue’s first Italian hot dog joint on January 31, the day before the Super Bowl. (Above) Barca is sick of pizza; he’s a hot dog aficionado. Photo by Victor Chu

Ronny Barca grew up on Arthur Avenue. His father and uncle own an Italian restaurant.

Barca, 22, loves hot dogs. The St. Raymond grad scarfs six or seven dogs at a time.

A month ago, Barca was savoring a hot dog, surveying Arthur Avenue, when inspiration struck.

On January 31, Barca and two friends will open Frankie Franks, Belmont’s first Italian hot dog joint.

“Arthur Avenue needs something new,” Barca said. “How many times can you eat pizza? People are going to love the Italian dog because it’s unique.”

What’s an Italian hot dog?

“A boiled hot dog inside Italian pizza bread, with sautéed onions, peppers and fried potatoes,” Barca said.

Barca didn’t invent the Italian hot dog. Jimmy Buff’s in Newark has served Italian dogs since 1932. New Jersey is dotted with imitators.

But credit Barca for bringing the Italian hot dog to the Bronx’s Little Italy. Frankie Franks sits at the heart of Arthur Avenue, just off 187th Street and next door to Sandra LaVista’s flower shop, Arthur Avenue Floral.

Before Barca leased the space, it was – you guessed it – a pizzeria.

“The pizzeria didn’t last five months,” said Cerini Coffee’s Johnny Cerini. “The owners were from upstate. They didn’t know what they were doing.”

Barca knows. Belmont bulwark Addeo Gennaro & Sons will bake Frankie Frank’s pizza bread, because Addeo bakes “the best bread,” according to Barca. He’ll use an Italian beef sausage, most likely supplied by an Arthur Avenue butcher.

Frankie Franks will keep things simple.

“Three items on the menu,” Barca said. “Sausage and peppers, an Italian cheeseburger and an Italian hot dog.”

Barca has invited his Arthur Avenue neighbors over for sampling.

“It’s a twist on the traditional hot dog,” said Frank Franz, Belmont Business Improvement District coordinator. “It’s more like a meal than a hot dog. It’s terrific, absolutely delicious.”

Franz has heard that gourmet hot dogs are all the rage in California. He, Barca and LaVista are confident Frankie Franks will explode.

“It’s a brilliant idea,” LaVista said. “We all have to eat lunch. In this bad economy, here’s something people in the neighborhood can afford.”

Frankie Franks will deliver locally, Barca said. His place boasts a floor-to-ceiling window onto Arthur Avenue. People have already begun to notice Frankie Franks. Barca put up a temporary sign in mid-January.

“Everybody is excited,” he said. “Stopping by asking me ‘Who’s Frankie?’ I’m going to get a t-shirt. On the front it’s going to say ‘Frankie.’”

Barca’s hot dogs won’t be kosher. He’s hoping to attract crowds from Fordham University and St. Barnabas Hospital.

“I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant,” Barca said. “Like my father and uncle. I’m breaking out on my own.”

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