by Michael Vyskocil, photography by Tara Hope Cofiell
When you’re visiting Hampstead and Manchester in northern Carroll County, you get the feeling that you’re surrounded by family. On any given weekday or weeknight, people from the community and visitors from outside the area come seeking good food and good company among family at Fratelli’s Italian & Seafood restaurant.
Opened in 2012 in the Hampstead Marketplace off the Hanover Pike (Maryland Route 30), Fratelli’s is independently owned and operated by the family of Roula and Nicholas Sakellis. The decision to settle in Carroll County versus being in locations such as Little Italy or the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Roula said, was one that she and her family couldn’t overlook: “We’re a small business, and we preferred this area because Hampstead is a small town with a lot of family.”
Incidentally, family is not only behind the restaurant’s operation — the couple’s son manages the business — but family is also behind the recipes that make up the dishes on the menu. Roula explained that most of the recipes, from the marinara sauce to the homemade breadsticks, emanates from old family recipes.
“We’re still making them from scratch the way they were made when we were children,” she said, noting the memories she’s kept of her grandmother teaching her how to make the breadsticks and pasta. “I would always say, ‘What make your food taste so good?’ And she’d say, ‘If it’s too much or not enough, make it with love.’”
Those handmade touches made with love, Roula said, define the quality of the ingredients and the quality of the finished dishes served at the table. “Besides us, there are only two restaurants in Maryland that we’re aware of that are still making fresh pasta, linguine and spaghetti from scratch. Here, the pasta is prepared and cooked to order.”
Of Crab Cakes and Italian Classics
What would a Maryland restaurant serving seafood be without its crab cakes? Naturally, Fratelli’s doesn’t disappoint in this department. Recognized locally as one of the best places to satisfy your tastes for well-prepared crab cakes in Carroll County, the Fratelli’s customer-favorite crab cakes are hearty portions of the highest quality crab meat mixed with just enough filler to keep them together and then broiled or fried to customers’ tastes. (In fact, Fratelli’s designates each Wednesday evening as Crab Cake Night at the restaurant.)
In addition to crab cakes, diners also seek the comfort in Italian classics on their plates, like the homemade lasagna and chicken parmigiana.
Specials, too, change continually and reflect freshness and seasonality of ingredients. “It’s really based on what we receive that day,” Roula explained. “None of our specials are frozen.” Some recent examples of special dishes prepared by Chef Edward Smith have included broiled fresh rockfish finished with sautéed lumps of crabmeat in a stone-ground mustard sauce and served on a straw potato cake with sautéed collard greens. Grilled baby lamb chops finished with infused olive oil served on polenta with ratatouille have also graced the appetizer special offerings.
“Everything that’s on our menu took years to perfect, including our Alfredos, shrimp and veal dishes,” she said. “When we add something to our menu, it takes us months and months of preparing and tasting the food. If we don’t like the way something comes out, we don’t serve it. We believe in being proud of what you serve.”
Fratelli’s signature dishes — noted by the signature symbol on the menu — consist of seafood Alfredo, shrimp and penne pasta, chicken Oscar, baked tortellini, and veal.
An extensive wine list of reds and whites, cocktail creations, draft and bottled beers, and refreshing sangrias offers lively libations that pair perfectly with the appetizers and entrées on the menu.
The Fratelli’s Feeling of Home
Whether you’re making a first visit or the 41st visit to Fratelli’s, one aspect of the restaurant that Roula and her family strive to uphold is the feeling of a family kitchen and dining room.
“We spend so much time here, so we try to bring that feeling of family into Fratelli’s … the smell of the food, the cooking, the open doors to the kitchen … it’s the feeling that you’re welcome and at home,” she explained.
The customer base grows by a grassroots word-of-mouth recognition. Diners for lunch and dinner come from not only Carroll County and the Hampstead and Manchester area, but also from Howard and Montgomery counties and even as far away as York, Pennsylvania. Fratelli’s also hosts corporate parties and special private events, including birthday and graduation dinners.
“We’re honored to be a part of the community here,” Roula said. “The love and support we’ve received from this local community … they’ve supported us, and we’ve supported them. Looking back, we made a great decision to come here. It’s been a great four years, and we look forward to many more years to come.”