As the more than one million visitors pass through the gates of Space Center Houston at NASA’s Johnson Space Center each year, few are aware they’re missing out on an essential stop that’s not on the tour.
Three-quarters of a mile away, in a nondescript strip mall in Clear Lake City, Texas, the story of one man’s relationship with America’s space program is told through decades of autographs, mementos, and first-hand accounts.
In 1979, Francesco “Frankie” Camera opened Frenchie’s Italian Cuisine at 1041 East NASA Parkway, and quickly became a go-to lunch and dinner spot for NASA workers, engineers, and even astronauts.
Over the years, Camera’s hospitality and authentic food have established Frenchie’s as a southeast Texas treasure.
That connection is illustrated throughout the dining rooms. Seemingly every inch of wall space is adorned with autographed photos, banners, and mementos from the Apollo, Skylab, Space Shuttle, and International Space Station programs. Each framed keepsake is signed by astronauts, engineers, and other notable NASA figures — a ‘who’s who’ of America’s space heroes.
Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean, the fourth person to walk on the moon, signed a panoramic photo of the lunar surface, titled, “Our little home on the Ocean of Storms.”
In gold ink, Bean paid the restaurateur the ultimate compliment, writing, “Frankie — This was a fun place, but the food wasn’t as good as Frenchies.”
Whether you’re a moon-walking astronaut or an “Average Joe,” Camera seems to treat all of his patrons to his booming personality and genuine attention. He still seats guests and meanders through the restaurant, striking up conversations with regulars and welcoming first-timers.
The menu features classic Italian recipes prepared with quality ingredients. Salads, soups, pasta, and entree specialties featuring seafood, chicken, steaks, and veal, will please any appetite or palate. Their selection of wine and beer will complement any meal.
On my most recent visit, I began with an appetizer of garlicky escargot and garlic bread. My entree choice was an easy one — Shrimp Champagne — a generous portion of fresh gulf shrimp and sliced mushrooms served on a bed of pasta, topped in a rich champagne sauce.
Be sure to save room for dessert. Several options will satisfy your sweet tooth, but there’s a reason Tiaramisu is first on the menu.
No trip to Space City USA would be complete without a visit to Frenchie’s Italian Cuisine. It’s located at 1041 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of KLTV/KTRE-TV or Gray Television. They are solely the opinion of the author. All content © Copyright 2019 Lane Luckie