Franco's Italian Restaurant in Orange Beach, AL.
Clorinda Bassolino Meadlock and family.
By John Mullen
April 18, 2018 – Orange Beach, AL (OBA®) - Clorinda Bassolino Meadlock wants you to feel like you’ve stepped into a cozy family place when you visit Franco’s Italian Restaurant. All over the walls are pictures of her family – parents, grandparents uncles and cousins from the 1930s to the present.
 
It’s her family’s tradition that continues today. On a recent afternoon, she following her toddler daughter around the restaurant and chatting up a tableful of diners who were exchanging smiles with the youngster. 
 
At Franco’s you could easily think you’ve stepped into a ristorante tucked away in a borough of New York City. Precisely the feeling Clorinda wants you to have visiting Franco’s.
 
  “My family had Italian restaurants my whole life,” Clorinda said. “I grew up in the restaurant business. My father, Rocco, is a real Italian off the boat from Naples, Italy. My father emigrated through Ellis Island 44 years from Naples with his parents and two brothers.”
 
Rocco Bassolino grew up in the restaurant business as well and passed down the tradition Clorinda carries on today.
 
Pepperoni pizza from Franco's in Orange Beach, AL.

“Rocco was only 13 years old standing on Pepsi crates making pizza pies,” she said. “He was too short to reach the pizza counter to make the pizza pies. When I first started to understand the restaurant business my dad had a really lucrative pizzeria in New York City in the Bronx and my mother was a waitress there at Rocco’s Place.”
 
An entertainer at heart, Clorinda went to the Burt Reynolds Institute for training and spent many years at Burt’s dinner theater in Jupiter, Fla. While there she made friends with several notables in the entertainment business.
 
“Burt had a dinner theater years ago in Jupiter, Fla., and I worked there as a musical entertainer for four years under contract,” Clorinda said. “Dom Delouise, Charles Nelson Riley, Pauli Sorvino, Mary Lou Henner and a lot of different actors. I’m a professional theater actor by trade.”
 
Several of those acting colleagues have eaten at Franco’s during Clorinda’s three years there. Pauli Sorvino has his own table and visits every few months and Billy Crystal and Howard Stern have been dinner guests.
 
A visit to her mother in Gulf Shores 10 years ago lured Clorinda to the area and, like many people who see the area for the first time fell in love with it.
 
“I was a waitress at Hazel’s over there and a part-time personal trainer at the Bodenhamer Center and a fitness instructor,” she said. “With a divorce settlement, I bought Franco’s. I bought myself a job.”
 
She bought it from Gulf Coast restaurant icon Richard Schwartz who has owned a dozen or more restaurants over the years. Currently, he just has Doc’s Seafood Shack in Orange Beach and Hazel’s Nook in Gulf Shores.
 
“Richard Schwartz said I had the tenacity to be in the restaurant business,” Clorinda said. “I didn’t think I did but he said I did and he was right.”
 
When Clorinda talks about the food at her restaurant she returns to a familiar theme: family.
 
Chicken marsala“The food and recipes come from my family, from my father Rocco and my grandparents,” she said.
 
Those require ingredients not readily available in south Alabama and just about everything is fresh made.
 
“We make our sauce fresh, we use the best ingredients, the best cheese, fresh mozzarel,” Clorinda said. “The best products. We have to order our stuff special from special vendors. We get our products from a variety of unique places because it’s not easy to find the products that we get here on this island. It’s expensive to find the special mozzarella cheese, the mascarpone cheese, the regato cheese because that’s what we use for our recipes. The Pomodoro imported tomatoes that we get you can’t get it here.”
 
Pizza is the biggest seller and before she opened she called in an expert. Her dad Rocco suggested new equipment for the kitchen to make the dough and passed on his techniques and recipes.
 
“We’ve become a famous pizzeria,” she said. “We make our own dough for our hand-tossed New York-style pizza pie. We also make the fresh garlic knots with our dough and we make our own bread.”
 
But there are many tempting entrees to choose from as well if it’s not a pizza night.
 
Spaghetti from Franco's in Orange Beach, AL.“Another thing that we have that sells a lot is the Steak Oscar that we have,” Clorinda said. “We do an exceptional job with that. We also have veal dishes, chicken marsala, shrimp parmesan, my lasagna and seafood lasagna. We also have great appetizers, fried calamari, mozzarella sticks that we make here and are never frozen.”
 
The Steak Oscar is a marinated and grilled center cut Filet Mignon topped with savory white wine basil cream sauce filled with lump crabmeat and topped with fresh steamed asparagus spears. In the seafood lasagna you’ll find shrimp, scallops and crabmeat with fresh spinach and alfredo sauce.
 
An array of traditional lasagnas and pastas are also on the menu and everything is served with salad and fresh bread.
 
And Clorinda keeps entertainment on the menu as well with music seven nights a week.
 
“I love the music part. It makes me really excited and proud because it gives me the feeling of the live entertainment and that’s my passion,” Clorinda said. “We have quite a bit of demand for that now because we just don’t play typical beach music like some of the other places. You’ll hear the Rat Pack genre, Motown, show tunes.”
 
(Check out Franco's Italian Restaurant's page on the Orange Beach Community Website.)