After Jack’s Rhythms, the longtime occupant of 56 Main Street in downtown New Paltz, closed, Frank Cardella, owner of Frank’s Fresh Pickling Company, saw a perfect opportunity to have just the right place to showcase his Italian-style deli. After spending some time renovating the old music store to fit the needs of a deli, with a place to cook, refrigerate, serve and dine, Frank’s Fresh opened its doors on December 12. Its shelves are stocked with his homemade, original jarred pickles, sauerkraut, relishes, hot sauces, kimchi, spice mixes and gourmet jams.
“We’ve had such a great reception,” said Cardella, pointing out the black walnut countertops he was able to construct with the help of local carpenters and wood that was “sitting in a friend’s barn.”
There is a children’s table, a bathroom with a changing table, a myriad of Frank’s Fresh merchandise that spans from red onion relish, peach/nectarine jam and bread-and-butter pickles to tee-shirts and sweatshirts fashioned with his sunflower logo. “People do get a little confused by the pickling part of our logo, and I see them peer inside and then walk back around and pop their head in and ask, ‘Do you serve food?’”
Pickles are just one of Frank’s Fresh signature delicacies. “The red habañero sauce is flying off the shelf,” he said. “It has this deep garlic flavor that I personally love and recommend to people. Then there’s the pineapple habañero, which is milder with a different kick to it, but still delicious.”
There are also fresh, homemade stretched-and-kneaded mozzarella balls and shrimp antipasti, along with a variety of deli sandwiches and vegetarian and vegan items. “A lot of the time I’ll leave the feta near the chickpea salad so that it can be vegan or not,” he explained.
Talking food and combinations and recipes and antipasti comes as second nature to Cardella, who would be playing ball in the streets of his childhood neighborhood in Staten Island when his grandmother would call out the window for him to come into the house. “She’d yell, ‘Frankie, it’s time to stretch the mozzarella!’ or ‘Frankie, it’s time to peel the shrimp,’ and off I’d go,” he says with a laugh. “I remember my one American friend was like, ‘I’ve never peeled shrimp; I’ve never even eaten shrimp!’”
For Cardella, that was regular life growing up in a Sicilian-and-Spanish household. As early as age seven, he would spend hours in the kitchen, helping his Nanny make food from scratch. “I was always getting yelled at not to grate my knuckles, because I had to grate the cheese all the way down,” he said.
Family life centered its holidays, traditions and social gatherings around big meals. Dear friends also owned and operated a family-style Italian deli in Staten Island that was an institution: the Plaza Deli. “I pay great homage to that family, because they were amazing cooks, but also beautiful people, and I learned a ton from them.”
After graduating from SUNY New Paltz in 2003, Cardella recalled his mother calling him to ask when they should bring the truck up to carry his things back home. But he wasn’t ready to leave New Paltz, and told his mom that he was going to stay for a while. “She kindly let me know that if I was going to stay up here after graduation, I’d better get a job to pay my rent,” he said.
He marched up the street and asked the owner of McGillicuddy’s, Brian Keenan, for a job. “I was told that I could start that night, so three hours later I was back, in black slacks and white shirt, bussing tables.”
As he watched the action in the kitchen, particularly when things were busy and the chef and his staff were getting overwhelmed, Cardella remembered bragging: “I was running my mouth about being a better cook than any of them.” Before he knew it, they told him to take his busboy clothes off and put his money where his mouth was. “I never left the kitchen after that,” he said. “I loved cooking!”
He takes his hat off to Keenan and crew for giving him the opportunity to craft his skills. The downtown restaurant owners like Brian and Doug Beans [Thompson] from the Bistro have been great to him. “They all want each other to succeed,” he said, “and they have such a wealth of experience.”
For Cardella, opening Frank’s Fresh has been a dream come true. The father of two young girls, and husband to his wife Danielle said that “family and cooking and conversation are what I’m about.”
Frank’s Fresh is at 56 Main Street, with fresh salads and offerings every day. For information, go to www.franksfreshnewpaltz.com.