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For the Whole Gang

by B.A. Nilsson on June 8, 2011

Costanzo’s Riverside Restaurant
Sometimes you turn a corner and lose most of your bearings. It could be a plaza in a foreign country where you don’t recognize the dialect spoken around you. Or the intrusion of a sudden rainstorm. Or a trip down an alleyway that opens into a glorious park.

Costanzo’s sits on a stretch between Waterford and Mechanicville that parallels the nearby Hudson River and sports light to heavy industry. The restaurant would be a surprise had it not for many years been serving banquets as the Scot-Mar. Its history is tied with Mechanicville, where Frank Costanzo ran an eponymous restaurant, first on Warsaw Avenue, then on Saratoga Avenue. Frank’s sister, Carmella, worked with him when he took over the Mechanicville Golf Club; as their operation continued to grow, she and her husband, Lee Hein, acquired the Scot-Mar in 1993 to serve as a combination restaurant and banquet house. Ten years later, they refurbished it.

It still looks like a trip back in time, to when a large dining room was the norm and a salad bar was an attraction. Its riverside aspect is that of proximity: There’s no outdoor dining. There’s a $10 early-bird special from 4 to 6 PM, offering chicken or eggplant parm, haddock or spaghetti, even an eight-ounce New York strip with the salad bar, and I suspect, given the graying of the clientele for this kind of place, that it’s a popular deal. I’m pretty gray; I may have to look into it myself.

We’re not talking fine dining or fancy dining. We’re talking large portions of food that’s prepared in a tradition that’s as much American as it ever may have been Italian. I had a serving of veal Costanzo ($22) that promised a breaded cutlet with prosciutto, provolone and roasted red pepper. Although the prosciutto was missing, the cutlet was as nicely prepared as I could have expected, and I actually forgot to complain about the missing meat. It came with sides of roasted potatoes and an undistinguished vegetable of the day that was a string-bean-and-mushroom combo—something more in the service of the idea of a vegetable than a vegetable itself.

The menu features a list of appetizers that also serve as traditional libation accompaniments: mozzarella sticks, chicken wings, jalapeno poppers, clam strips ($6 to $7 apiece) with bruschetta ($6), fried calamari ($8) and antipasto for two ($10) to keep it Italian. A special-of-the-day appetizer of mussels ($7) presented a plate of them on the half-shell, a nice touch, finished to a just-right consistency in a buttery sauce that made short work of our bread.

Burgers are available ($8 for a half-pounder), along with sandwiches of prime rib ($11) and chicken breast ($9). Pizza comes in eight-cut ($12) and four-cut ($6) sizes, and we sampled one of the latter with added broccoli. It was well-flavored although suffering from a somewhat thick and mealy crust.

The $18 NY strip, a 12-ounce portion, was tempting, as was the same-priced ribeye. But I stayed with the Italian selections, others of which are chicken marsala or parmigiana ($15 each), veal ditto ($18 each), veal Sorrento ($20) and the veal dish described above.

Under the heading “Costanzo’s Specialties” are shrimp scampi ($19), seafood linguine ($22), shrimp and scallops Alfredo (very tempting, $23), seafood fra diavolo ($24) and more. Among the other seafood dishes include broiled scallops ($19), haddock Costanzo (served with tomatoes and basil, $17) and scallops and haddock with broiled shrimp ($22), which we also ordered, and which turned out to be a very unadorned platter of the three items in satisfying quantity, buttered, broiled—grab a fork.

Pasta selections include spaghetti or baked ziti ($10) and ravioli or cheese-filled tortellini ($11).

All of the entrées come with a soup of the day, which in our case was an excellent Italian sausage mix, and the salad bar, which is a small array centered around a bowl of fresh lettuce with accompaniments of tomatoes, cucumbers, stuffed cherry peppers, and so on, with potato salad and coleslaw as well.

We listened to a rather loud interview with B. B. King as our dinner got started that eventually led us into his music, a much better accompaniment. Service was enthusiastic and efficient—in fact, I can’t overpraise the staff. They knew the food, knew the (other) customers and happily conveyed any information we needed. Our only snag came when it was time to pay, which coincided with the arrival of a party of 13 who needed all kinds of attention and fastened the servers unto them as with grappling hooks.

There’s lots of tradition here, much of it worthy, some of it worth letting slip into the mists of passing time. I think the big party we saw in there has the right idea; this is at heart a banquet place, and you should bring your own crowd.

Costanzo’s Riverside Restaurant, 405 Hudson River Road, Waterford, 233-8224, costanzosriverside.net. Serving dinner 4-9 Wed-Sat. AE, D, MC, V.

Cuisine: Italian-American

Entrée price range: $6 (four-cut pizza) to $24 (seafood fra diavolo)

Ambiance: banquet house