Friscos Deli and Market
When I reviewed Frisco's in April 2005, I was impressed by a couple of things. For starters, the crew's resumés included some big-time names (Batali, Bastianich, Le Bernardin and Capital Grille) that seemed totally out of place on the still-virginal landscape of Belmar. And then there was the concept: a full-service bistro offering three-a-day service inside a strip-mall deli crammed with prepared foods, meats and cheeses, as well as a kitchen that would take customer requests. It seemed ridiculous, but it also seemed to be working. At the time, the owners called Frisco's an "experiment" -- and for a while, the experiment worked. I was impressed; the crowds were impressed. But over the past year, things have changed. While the kitchen still does special requests, the business is now all about pushing prepared foods out of their cold cases -- which, last time I was there, consisted of a single cooler sparsely populated with a few crabcakes, some potatoes au gratin, a couple of pastas and two or three lonely-looking steaks. The cheese case is a joke, with just a handful of wrapped Baby Bel and MouCo cheeses. And the notion of Frisco's still billing itself as a "European-style market" is laughable, since what little product the place stocks (some Stonewall Kitchen bottled sauces, a few bags of dry pasta) has been shoved to two wire racks along the back wall. It's noble that Frisco's continues to use only Boar's Head meats and cheeses on its sandwiches, Angus beef and Red Bird chickens in the kitchen, and fresh, organic veggies in its salads. But good intentions fall flat when those sandwiches are mounted on tasteless bread and it takes two employees to figure out how much change I should get back on a tab of $10.04 after I'd handed them a ten-dollar bill and four pennies (this at 7 p.m. on a Thursday, when I'm the only customer in the place, except for a couple of window shoppers). Yes, the mom-and-pops in Belmar have been suffering as chain restaurants converge on the area -- but you don't fight that by shrinking from the challenge and forgoing basic math skills. If Frisco's never wants to be anything more than a sandwich joint for those on lunch break from the Payless across the parking lot, that's fine. But after the impressive way this place started out, I was hoping for something more.
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