Growing up in Watertown, Frank Martino spent Sundays in the kitchen with his father. They’d chop onions, crush canned tomatoes, and sear meat. Martino climbed onto a stool so he could reach to stir the simmering sauce. He learned to roll meatballs, shape gnocchi, and make ravioli.
“I got really good at it at home. I was the official taste-tester,” Martino says. “That’s where my passion was.”
Decades later Martino’s passion remains, but the kitchens have gotten a little bigger. Today, he presides over a collection of Italian-themed eateries within the Mills 58 complex in Peabody. Frankie Slice sells acclaimed pizza, Frankie Beef puts a gourmet spin on classic North Shore roast beef, and Sweet Street Gelato churns up housemade frozen treats.
The most recent addition to the lineup is F355 Prime Italiano, a sit-down restaurant and music venue. The name and the vibe are inspired by Martino’s bold red Ferrari F355, which is proudly displayed in the dining room. the rest of the spaces takes its cue from this automotive centerpiece, featuring a black-and-red color scheme; clean, sleek lines; and surfaces that gleam.
The kitchen serves up Italian fare that blends Old World tradition with some contemporary flair. The menu is heavy on Italian favorites. Appetizers include cheesy, meat-stuffed arancini and meatballs with ricotta. The chicken parmigiana, veal marsala, and housemade pappardelle with bolognese sauce are also favorites.
Martino, however, also likes to put twists on popular classics. Steak and cheese egg rolls made with USDA Prime meat are a staple of the appetizer menu, and one of the most popular pizzas is the Kristi Special, topped with olive oil, roasted garlic, fresh arugula, warm burrata, prosciutto, pistachios, and a balsamic drizzle.
The original menu included more high-end steak dishes, but, when customers clamored for the steak tips and old-school Italian favorites, Martino decided to give the people what they wanted.
“We kept some things on the menu and moved to the direction that they wanted,” he says.
Martino is zealous about using fresh and high-quality ingredients in his food. He imports non-GMO flour from Italy and will only use chicken that was raised without hormones or antibiotics. He also raises several ingredients himself on the property surrounding his Rowley home. Martino grows all the basil for the restaurant and keeps bees who produce honey. He just bought 30 baby chicks and hopes that in a few months he’ll be able to use eggs from his own backyard, cage-free chickens in his restaurant recipes as well.
The road to F355
Despite his lifelong love of cooking and food, Martino came to the restaurant industry by a somewhat roundabout route. His father owned a meat company, so, while attending Watertown High School, he worked summers and after-school hours at meat businesses in Somerville and Boston. Eventually he opened a commercial cleaning service that worked for these same meat companies. As he built his career, however, the desire to do something in the food world never left.
Opportunity struck in the 1990s, when he bought a historical building in Topsfield with the vision of turning it into a top wedding venue. He renovated and updated the old structure, adding in crystal chandeliers and laying gold leaf on the trim himself. After an initial stint working with outside caterers, he decided to open up an in-house kitchen, so the food would meet his exacting standards.
And these plans bore fruit: Today, The Commons 1854 is one of the North Shore’s acclaimed wedding venues.
“I was there for years, working that business,” Martino says. “I was pretty much there every wedding, just learning, studying, perfecting.”
The chance to expand came Martino’s way in 2019, when Ed Greeley, the owner of Mills 58, a redeveloped mill property that houses a range of independent businesses, was looking to add a food hall to the premises. Martino’s son Frankie caught wind of the opportunity and approached Greeley about running a coffee roasting business and café in the space. He also reached out to his father to see if he had any ideas.
And Martino most certainly did. He helped design and shape the entire food hall concept, now known as the Eatery 58 Marketplace, and spent nearly a year traveling and training to learn the secrets of the best Neapolitan pizza dough, the creamiest gelato, and the most authentic handmade pasta.
He opened his first three operations in rapid succession, and each new business quickly earned happy customers and positive reviews. At the same time, his son opened Capito Coffee in the marketplace. Once those businesses were up and running, Greeley approached Martino about adding a full-service restaurant to the portfolio, and the seeds of F355 were planted.
Now, with the restaurant going full speed, Martino’s days are packed: He gets up a 4 a.m. to feed his goats and chicks, and spends his day roasting meats, simmering sauces, developing new menu items, and overseeing the operations of Eatery 58 Marketplace.
He expects to keep honing and developing the restaurant concept by introducing new flavors (keep an eye out for the debut of the white clam pizza) and adding new events like trivia contests and comedy nights to its existing lineup of live music and DJs. And any changes will be guided by whatever it takes to keep his customers happy.
“They’re telling me what they like,” he says.
F355 Prime Italiano, 58 Pulaski St., Peabody, 978-209-3355, f355prime.com