Dinner Theatre at Franca's Real Italian Restaurant

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Last week, Dennis and I were lucky enough to attend the performance of, Don't Dress For Dinner, at Franca's Real Italian Restaurant's dinner theatre.  If you haven't been lucky enough to attend a show there, stop what you're doing right now and go make reservations.  For $30, you get admission to the show, a delicious 3 course meal, and a night you won't forget.

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Franca's Real Italian Restaurant is a family owned place down in the Clear Lake area of Houston.  It's been open since 1971 when it was known as Franco's Real Italian Restaurant - named after the founder, Franco Pignataro - until his youngest daughter, (you guessed it) Franca, took over in 1998.  Franca's was one of the first restaurants open in the Clear Lake area and is quite the landmark.  A lot has changed in Clear Lake since 1971, but it's no surprise that Franca's remains the same.  Their formula of delicious food, amazing hospitality, and a cozy atmosphere combine to make this place stand the test of time.  Read more about their history here.

  
When our doors first opened in 1971, Franco's was the only restaurant in the South Houston area and for miles around you could see the empty horizon of Clear Lake.

Dennis and I weren't able to finalize our plans until the afternoon before the show - totally last minute, but that's life with a toddler.  Unfortunately, the show was sold out, but we were put on the standby list in case of any last minute cancellations.  On the afternoon of the performance, I called in to check on our reservation status and there hadn't been any cancellations yet.  I spoke to Franca herself (she's super awesome, btw) and she offered to call me back at the last possible moment if any tables opened up.  I really appreciated her willingness to help get us in the door.  Her kindness radiated through the phone.  About half an hour after we initially spoke, she called me back and said there weren't any cancellations, but there was room to put a table in a not so perfect sightline of the stage, but we could feel free to move our seats once the show started - how could I say no to that (and for the record, the sightline wasn't all that bad)?!?

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I've lived in Houston for 15 years and can't count the number of times I've driven past Franca's, but this was the first time we've ever been there.  I don't know how I managed to go that many years without visiting such an iconic landmark of south Houston!  As soon as you walk into Franca's you can tell this is a family run operation and not some generic franchise.  Lots of love has gone into this place and you can feel it when you walk through the door.  There are family photos throughout the restaurant, and the decor is delightfully kitschy and warm with arches, columns, statues, fountains, and grottos throughout.

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When we arrived, we were greeted by Franca and shown to our table.  Our table didn't have an ideal sightline to the stage (there was a column in the way), but Franca showed us where we could move our seats if we wanted once the show started and also indicated another table to the side of the stage where we could sit if we liked.  From the moment we arrived we were fawned over by the staff.  Everyone wanted to make sure we were well taken care of, and I felt like we were getting super special treatment.  Even though the staff was obviously giving special treatment to everyone there, we still felt very well taken care of and like we were guests of honor.

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The dinner theatre menu is a fixed menu with a handful of choices for the main entree and includes salad, bread, non-alcoholic beverage,and dessert.  I went with the Combo Plate (chicken parmesan, lasagna, penne alfredo, and  vegetables) and Dennis had the Tortellini Francesca (cheese tortellini with sauteed shrimp, bay scallops, and basil in a cream sauce).  We had a hard time deciding between all the delicious options and decided to each get something different and share.  My choice was a delightful plate of comfort food and Den's was a perfect balance of creamy cheese pasta and seafood creamy goodness.  Both of our choices were so good!  I'm drooling just thinking about them.

When my plate first arrived, my food wasn't as warm as I would like it.  I've worked food service and understand that this sometimes happens.  I took a few bites and realized it was just too cold for me to really enjoy and decided to ask my server to warm it up.  I always feel so bad when I have to send food back (not that that happens very often), and I really hate having to do it.  I feel bad because I know what hard work goes into food service (and sometimes these things happen) and I really hate having to inconvenience the wait staff and cooks.  Our server was very understanding and got another plate out to me very quickly (it really would've been fine if my original plate was put in the microwave for a few seconds - I didn't expect an entire new plate).  I really appreciate how well things were handled.  Lots of understanding all around.  And I'm only mentioning this because of how well it was handled.

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Dinner is served before the show instead of during the show to cut out on distractions.  Franca's puts on scripted plays on a stage instead of murder mystery improv type of dinner theatre in the round, so eating during the performance wouldn't work so well.  Dinner starts at 6:30 and the show starts at 8:00 allowing for plenty of time to enjoy the meal.  Dessert and coffee is served during intermission.  The dessert for the night was one of my all time favorites, tiramisu, and this dessert did not disappoint.  I only wish the serving size were bigger so I could've eaten more of it (even though I was stuffed to the gills).

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The show for the evening, Don't Dress For Dinner, was a delightfully funny farce about infidelity and mistaken identity.  Two of my friends, Michael (also my fertility doctor, lol) and Jeff, were the male leads and everyone in the cast was fabulous.  Jeff actually stepped into the role just a few days before opening because the previously cast actor had to drop out at the last minute.  He had to use his script for a few of the scenes, but it didn't take away from the performance at all.  We ended up not needing to move our seats at all - I did have to lean to the right or to the left a few times to see around the column, but it wasn't inconvenient at all.

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We had a fantastic time at Franca's Real Italian Restaurant and I would definitely recommend this restaurant and dinner theatre experience to everyone.  The food was delicious, the service was amazing, and the show was tons of fun  If you're interested in trying them out, you can make reservations for a show by calling 281-488-2207.  The list of upcoming shows can be found here.  Franca's also has karaoke on Thursdays and can be reserved for special events like wedding rehearsal dinners or birthdays.  Don't wait any longer to check out this iconic landmark!!!

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