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PHOTO: B.A. Nilsson

The Food Speaks Italian

Inferno Restaurant & Pizzeria

496 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville, 459-2121. Serving Mon-Thu 11-10, Fri-Sun 11-11. AE, MC, V.

Cuisine: pizza and Italian fare

Entrée price range: $8 (traditional pizza) to $15 (veal parmigiana)

Ambiance: like new!

By B.A. Nilsson

What pushes you into that last-minute decision to dine out? And how do you choose a restaurant when it’s a matter of impulse?

My family and I had one of those moments in an Albany parking lot not long ago. We realized we wouldn’t be able to get home until after 8 PM, which meant dinner wouldn’t have been ready until nearly 9. (I’m not one of those 30-minute so-called gourmet cooks.) How nice if we could find a neighborhood joint, something with reliably good food that would be served quickly and wouldn’t cost a lot.

Good thing I had my Metroland Dining Guide tucked into the maps bin in my car. Pizza resonated most strongly with the assemblage, and the new Inferno headquarters seemed the most highway-convenient for us, located as it is not too far from Northway exit 4. Besides, it was new and we’d yet to try it.

The building rises like a beacon in the dark of an autumn night, replacing the flagship restaurant in what’s now a four-unit empire with plans to add still more. The original building went up in 1968 when Louis and Angelina Riggione started the operation, which remains in the Riggione family, now distributed among several offspring.

The takeout business obviously dominates—when I called for a reservation, the phone was answered, “Inferno: pickup or delivery?”—but upon arriving we found a pleasant window seat.

An Italianate look distinguishes the new building, which boasts high ceilings, blonde walls, attractively simple tables and a comfortable sense of space. The menu is short and to-the-point, with pizzas listed on the back page and a best-of assortment of appetizers and entrées on the menu’s inside.

Although I can foresee the wrath I’m about to provoke, I want to tackle the issue of pasta e fagioli. As its heritage attests, it’s an excellent soup, practically stewlike if that’s your preference. The name means pasta and beans, and from there on in you’re on your own. As a non-Italian, I pronounce it . . . I hesitate to say correctly; better, perhaps, to term it, in “received standard Italian,” or, as my wife puts it, “radio-announcer Italian,” hearkening back to my classical-radio days. So I unashamedly say “pasta eh fa-jolay.”

That’s because I’m too self-conscious to utter “pasta fazool” or some variant thereof. I’d sound like a tourist. This doesn’t stop other non-Italians, however, such as our youthful server, who enthusiastically repronounced it for me. (I have the same issue with “gyro,” but I’ll save that for the appropriate review.)

Although ostensibly born in northern Italy, pasta e fagioli has migrated everywhere, picking up tomato sauce as it traveled through that country’s southern portion. And it’s the tomato-enhanced version served here, a big bowl of it for $7. With the warm, crusty bread that’s served alongside, you’ve got the makings of a complete meal here. It’s a good brew, nothing outstanding in its flavors, but certainly what you expect.

Inferno’s reputation is based to a large extent on its pizzas, but this was a first for me. Given the Tuscan-inspired decor, I selected a Florentine chicken pizza ($13), an eight-cut white pie topped with big chunks of chicken along with sautéed spinach and fresh tomato chunks. With chunks of garlic as well as pesto to spice it up, it had a satisfyingly mouth-filling flavor.

I’m eager to try the Rustica (sausage and peppers), clam (white or red), Philly cheese and, of course, the works, priced between $11 and $13. You also can create your own, with a generous array of ingredients to choose from.

Greens and beans ($7) is also listed as a soup, but it’s a pretty thick assemblage that also sports an abundance of garlic, which has a natural affinity with the spinach therein. This is one of my favorite dishes, so I’m happy to know that a good version of it is available here.

Among the entrées, which are priced from $14 to $16 and include a side of pasta, you’ll find chicken or veal parmigiana, ditto marsala, chicken and broccoli Alfredo and more. Chicken Française ($14) is another favorite, although it should feature pounded breast cutlets and not the thick, tough slices we encountered. And there’s really no reason to use canned mushrooms for anything, especially when you can flavor your own as you sauté them.

Stuffed shells ($12), listed among the Italian favorites like lasagna ($13) and shrimp scampi ($15), are yet another of the many manifestations of macaroni and cheese I used over the years to wean my daughter away from the Kraft product (with its vile orange color). Five big pasta shells are stuffed with seasoned ricotta, served in a tomato sauce that’s light and not too sweet.

When I return, it will be for the stuffed hot cherry peppers ($8), fettucine Alfredo ($11), or veal-and-pepper plate ($15). But that’s when I return to dine in. Writing this has given me a craving for yet another pizza, so I hope you’ll excuse me while I phone in an order.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.


TABLE SCRAPS

Tonight (Thursday, Oct. 19) there will be a cigar soiree at Park 54 (54 Clifton Country Road, Clifton Park) in association with Park Lane Tobacconist. $60 gets you drinks, dinner and cigars. For more info, phone 688-1548 or check out www.park54restaurant .com. . . . Tonight sees another cigar dinner, this one at Carmine’s Restaurant (818 Central Ave., Albany), where chef Carmine Sprio is designing a menu to accompany a selection of CAO cigars (you’ll get five!) Along with drinks and dinner for $85 (inclusive). Call 690-2222 to see if there are seats left. . . . The Gateways Inn and Restaurant (51 Walker Street, Lenox, Mass.) will host a Macallan Whisky cocktail reception and four-course dinner at 7 PM Saturday (Oct 21). Chef Rosemary Chiariello has created a four-course menu that includes roasted-duck-breast salad, lobster cappuccino and grilled beef tenderloin in a peppered wine sauce. It’s $80 per person, and you can reserve seats by calling (413) 637-2532. . . . Girl Scouts, Hudson Valley Council, will hold their fifth annual Cookie Cuisine event from 6 to 9 PM Tuesday (Oct. 24) at the Italian American Community Center, Washington Avenue Extension, Albany. You’ll see Cookie Cuisine honorary chair Carmine Sprio and a host of talented culinary teams prepare gourmet entrees and desserts using all of your favorite Girl Scout cookies, including a brand new, top-secret cookie. Tickets are $35. For reservations, call Sharon Smith at 489-8110, ext. 105 or e-mail ssmith@ girlscouts hvgsc.org. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland (e-mail food@ banilsson.com).


We want your feedback

Have you eaten at any recently reviewed restaurants? Agree or disagree with B.A.? Let us know what you think...

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What you're saying...

I very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's at Ogdens. You review described my dining experience perfectly. This wasn't the case with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree that a restaurant can have an off night so I'll give the second unit on Central Avenue a try.

Mary Kurtz
Castleton

First, yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back. Second, I haven't had a chance to visit Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading the reviews.

Pat Russo
East Greenbush

I would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant - it's not that far away. People traveled from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam. From his background, I'm sure the chef's sauce is excellent and that is the most important aspect of an Italian restaurant. Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm looking forward to trying this restaurant - I look forward to Metroland every Thursday especially for the restaurant review. And by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam location and is opening a new bistro on Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake Bistro. It should be great!

Peggy Van Deloo
Schenectady

So happy to see you finally made out!! Our experiences have always been wonderful, the staff is extremely professional, the food subperb, and the atmosphere very warm and comfortable. Let us not forget to mention "Maria" the pianist on Friday and Saturday nights.

Charlie and Marie
Michaels Restaurant

I have been to Michael's several times and each time I have enjoyed it very much. The food is delicious and the staff is great. Also, Maria Riccio Bryce plays piano there every Friday and Saturday evening, a nice touch to add to the already wonderful atmosphere. It is also easy to find, exit 27 off the thruway to 30 north for about 5 miles.

N. Moore
Albany

Wonderful!

Elaine Snowdon
Albany

We loved it and will definitely go back.

Rosemarie Rafferty

Absolutely excellent. The quality and the flavor far surpasses that of other Indian restaurants in the area. I was a die-hard Shalimar fan and Tandoor Palace won my heart. It blows Ghandi out of the water. FInally a decent place in Albany where you can get a good dinner for less than $10 and not have tacos. The outdoor seating is also festive.

Brady G'sell

Indian is my favorite cuisine available in the area--I loved Tandoor Palace. We all agreed that the tandoori chicken was superior to other local restaraunts, and we also tried the ka-chori based on that intriguing description-delicious.

Kizzi Casale
Albany

Your comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants being as "standardized as McDonald's" shows either that you have eaten at only a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or that you have some prejudices to work out. That the physical appearances are not what you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing on the food. And after all, that is what the main focus of the reviews should be. Not the physical appearances, which is what most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on Central Avenue, may not look the greatest, but the food is excellent there. And the menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian, chicken, and more..

Barry Uznitsky
Guilderland



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