Hell's Kitchen 

Franco's keeps it cooking on a crowded intersection

As intersections go, I'd have to rate the corner of Piedmont and Cheshire Bridge among the uglier ones. It's congested, pedestrian-unfriendly and vaguely seedy (Inserection's blazing neon "XXX" sign springs to mind). And there, right in the middle of it all, is Franco's.

To say, then, that Franco's is an oasis of calm would only be half-true. The restaurant is pleasantly low-key, all dimmed lights and soft music. On a summer night, you'd be crazy not to grab a table on the glassed-in patio that wraps around one side of the restaurant. With the doors flung open and fans kicking up a breeze, it's quite lovely. Well, except for the ambulances that scream by every 10 minutes. Nothing like a wailing siren to make a person lose her train of thought.

Franco's Italian-American menu is an unflashy mix of pizzas and big bowls of pasta, with a handful of grilled meat and seafood dishes to round things out. It's the time of year for big, juicy tomatoes, and a Caprese salad makes the most of them. Thick slices of tomato, spiked with plenty of salt and pepper, sandwich creamy mozzarella and shreds of basil, the whole thing splashed with balsamic vinaigrette. I'm guessing they probably keep this salad on the menu year-round, but summer is the time for it.

Ubiquitous spinach-artichoke dip shows up on the menu. It's perfectly acceptable, but nothing particularly distinguishes it from the spinach-artichoke dip you'd get anywhere else. Me, I'd rather save the calories for something more exciting.

When it comes to pasta, I confess I'm a bit jaded. I studied in Italy in high school, and again in college. I know good pasta. And these days, happily, it's easy to find in Atlanta. But the pasta dishes at Franco's are just so-so. Penne with spicy tomato sauce should dance on the tongue, but here it hits the palate with a heavy, bland thud. A better choice is fettuccine alfredo, the sauce tinted pink from a splash of marinara.

Franco's individual-sized pizzas are the real reason to come here. These aren't the authentic Italian-style pizzas you'll find at places like Fritti, but they're delicious in their own right. Thin, chewy crust is a blank canvas for whatever sauce or topping strikes your fancy. I'm now going to reveal the best combination of pizza toppings ever conceived. Are you ready? The base is garlic cream sauce, topped with feta cheese, fresh tomatoes and Italian sausage. With all that cheese and rich sauce, it teeters on the edge of excess, but the tomatoes keep it in balance. Next time you go out for pizza, try it. Tell me if I'm wrong.

For all its imperfections, I have to give Franco's credit. They manage to inject a little warmth and humanity into a corner of town that represents some of Atlanta's worst instincts. I say bravo, and bring on the pizza.

Feelin' Groovy

Hop on the Fur Bus Wed., Aug. 10, for a far-out progressive dinner. The evening starts at Murphy's in Virginia-Highland, then moves to One Midtown Kitchen, and ends at Two Urban Licks with dessert and live music. The cost of $125 per person includes a five-course dinner with wine pairings and transportation for the night on the outrageous Fur Bus. Call One Midtown Kitchen at 404-892-4111 to make reservations. www.onemidtownkitchen.com.

Get Toasted

Toast's series of monthly beer tastings continues Wed., Aug. 10, with Flying Dog Beer. The $10 cost gets you unlimited pours of Flying Dog Gonzo, Sapporo Light and Spaten Maredsoud. Homemade pretzels and sausages are available for $5. Tastings run from 5:30-10 p.m. 817 W. Peachtree St. 404-815-9243. www.toastrestaurant.com.

Birthday Bash

This is one to mark your calendars for. In celebration of its third birthday Tues., Aug. 16, Woodfire Grill will host a star-studded prix-fixe dinner. Chef Tuohy has recruited fellow chefs Hugh Acheson (Five and Ten in Athens), Scott Peacock (Watershed), Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham), Mark Miller (Coyote Café in Santa Fe), and Woodfire pastry chef Jonathan St. Hilaire to assist him in creating a special five-course dinner for the evening. The cost of the dinner is $150 per person (all inclusive). Guests will also be treated to a champagne reception and goodies from Natural Body Day Spa. 1782 Cheshire Bridge Road. 404-347-9055. www.woodfiregrill.com.

Global View

Through the end of the summer, the Globe will host "Quick Fixe and a Flick" every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. Grab a table on the courtyard patio and watch a movie while you dine, or watch from the outdoor bar. In the event of rain, the movie moves inside. 75 Fifth Street. 404-541-1487. www.globeatlanta.com.

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