FREEBURG — When Francesca Blunda opened Francesca's Pizzeria & Italian Ristorante, it wasn't just her Italian name and accent she brought with her.
"Our family has been in the business for 30-plus years," she said. Only this time, instead of working in relatives' and friends' restaurants in the St. Louis area, the 41-year-old was ready to start her own.
After a year of looking, she and husband Frank Blunda came to Freeburg on a friend's recommendation.
"We were looking in the (Illinois) area and we kept stopping in Columbia," she said. "We didn't know about Freeburg."
The choice was just right. "There was no Italian restaurant in Freeburg and that pushed me," she said. "I really love the area, the small communities here. We hope to sell our house and move here."
She was raised in Crestwood, Mo., until her family moved back to Sicily in 1984 when she was 11. She stayed for 18 years, found husband Frank there and came back to live in Fenton, Mo. All of her family, except a brother, still live in Sicily.
"We were brought up to learn the culture," she said.
The restaurant, formerly the location of Breadeaux Pizza, needed a makeover. They painted the walls a sunny yellow, added checkered tablecloths and hung friends' paintings of Italian landscapes.
The restaurant seats 90 and offers carryout and delivery as well as dine-in service. Beer and wine are available. Lunch is a busy time, especially with a $7 buffet of pasta, pizza, salad and garlic bread from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.
Pasta has been a very popular menu item, with 13 choices, served with garlic bread, ranging from big seller lasagna ($8) to Mostaccioli a Francesca ($9), which is small, tube-shaped pasta with bacon, ham, peas and red peppers in a white cream sauce.
Five entree-sized salads are offered, including taco, $6.50, and grilled chicken, $7.
Fred Kelly, 39, of Shiloh, stopped in to pick up a pizza and raved about the Linguine Tutto Mare ($12) he had for dinner a few weeks ago. The pasta dish was filled with shrimp, clams, mussels and scallops and came with garlic bread and a salad.
"It was outstanding, so much more seafood than I expected," he said. "A friend from Scott (Air Force Base) told me this was the best-kept secret in the area, but I think the word will get out. I'm originally from New Jersey and he told me to try their Italian Beef (sandwich, $5). Said it was excellent, so that's next on my list."
Francesca's offers five other sandwiches, including an Italian sausage with sauce and mozzarella ($5).
Pizzas come in three styles: stuffed, pan and thin crust in four sizes with prices ranging from $8 for a 10-inch cheese to a whopper 16-inch stuffed deluxe with sausage, hamburger, pepperoni, ham, mushrooms, green peppers and onions for $22. The Family Night Special on Sundays is a 16-inch, two-topping pizza with breadsticks and soda for $19.
Francesca not only has help from her husband, but their two daughters, Sara and Rachel.
"I've gone around (in town) and introduced myself," she said. She wants to get word out about the new eatery and one of her favorite ways to help the community.
"We do what's called Pack the House," she said. "You bring in your church or school and pack the house and 10 percent goes to your fundraiser."
Francesca's Pizzeria & Italian Ristorante
What: Lunch and dinner with dining room, carryout and delivery
Location: 441 Marketplace Drive, Freeburg. (In the Marketplace shopping center.)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays and Sundays, to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
Handicapped accessible: Yes