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B.A. Nilsson

In the Neighborhood
By B.A. Nilsson

Ferrari’s Ristorante

1254 Congress St., Schenectady, 382-8865. Serving Mon-Thu 11:30-9, Fri 11:30-10, Sat 4-10. AE, MC, V.

Food: *** ½
Service: Cheerful

Ambience: Homelike

‘Are you sure there’s a restaurant here?” my wife asked, looking around nervously as we navigated a series of one-way streets in Schenectady. Long ago, before the aluminum-siding salesmen got hold of the place, it must have been a bustling neighborhood. Now, the houses looked neglected and droopy, and that once-shiny siding is battered and gray.

Ferrari’s Ristorante is in a wedge-shaped building that once was a hotel; it opened as a restaurant in 1974 when Francisco Ferrari abandoned his job as a GE steamfitter and, with his wife and four sons, went into this business. Now it’s run by two of those sons, Joey and Anthony, while mama Rose is still very much a presence in the place.

As we pondered the menu, I ordered a small antipasto Italiano. It’s $7 and looks fairly compact upon arrival, but it more than satisfied our need for cheese and sliced meats. There’s a large one listed for $15.50, but I wouldn’t dare order that without six or more diners in place. The Italiano has a pile of roasted peppers at its heart, with generous amounts of sliced meats—prosciutto, cappicola—fresh mozzarella cheese (what a happy flavor!), artichoke hearts and pungent provolone. Not a fancy-looking plate, but that’s not the priority here.

There’s also an antipasto Americano that features lettuce (iceberg, I’m sure), salami and ham with peppers and cheese, and a hot antipasto where clams and shrimp, eggplant and mushrooms join the fray.

When we got down to the business of ordering, I asked for a small plate of fried calamari ($6), which proved to be a good example of the typical preparation: battered, fried, served with a cocktail sauce. Not too chewy and a plentiful portion, it was consumed mostly by my daughter and me.

I should have been tipped off by the take-out containers going by. When the entrées arrived, they took up all of the tabletop space. First there was a plate of spaghetti and meatballs for Lily ($5.75), which she began working on as we finished our house salads, an undistinguished mix of the usual suspects with the usual choice of viscous dressings.

My entrée, veal Pepé ($16), is named for Joey Ferrari: “My name is Giuseppe, they nicknamed me Pepé,” he says. “You like that dish? It’s great. People love it.” Of course they do—it’s ardently bad for you. Medallions of veal are sautéed, then finished in a cream sauce touched with horseradish. There’s a lot of butter involved. Sounds simple, and I suppose it is, but there’s a monster conspiracy of flavors within.

As a side dish, I asked for the homemade spaghetti (there’s fresh pasta available upon request). I won’t knock the dried stuff, but I do like the texture of this variety, especially when joined with a good meat sauce such as Ferrari’s provides. I also ordered a side of broccoli rabe ($7), a bitter, crunchy weed that is nicely joined by plenty of garlic in its sautée.

Susan ordered a special that featured many, many sautéed shrimp over a plate of stuffed rigatoni ($20), where again butter was a defining characteristic. Too rich for her taste, but it’s a dish that accomplishes what it sets out to do. All of our meals the next day derived from these leftovers.

I returned a couple of days later to take the photograph that accompanies this review, and we dined again. We were recognized as we entered. Business was a little slower, and we fell into conversation with people at the adjacent tables. “This is one of our five favorite restaurants,” one gentleman declared. “We come back here all the time. Why take chances?” Meanwhile, my daughter found a coeval sitting behind her, and the two of them began to draw pictures together, each child changing tables at least once. Joey came out from behind the bar from time to time to sweep through the room and see how everybody was faring.

This is the essence of an Italian restaurant meal, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t happen at other restaurants but for a sense of restraint (probably Scandinavian) that pervades so much of dining out—where it’s OK to blow cigarette smoke in a stranger’s direction but God forbid you should talk.

Joey was checking in with old friends and making new ones as others in the room shared news of their lives with one another, buoyed by rich food and friendly wine. It’s not the same neighborhood it once was, so customers are drawn from a more generous radius. In effect, it becomes its own neighborhood.

You won’t find this at the Olive Garden. You won’t even find good food there, so I’m baffled by the appeal of that place. “I like to get in and out of a restaurant quickly,” one OG supporter told me, forcing me to slap him silly. That’s not dining. That’s what the Germans call fressen. It’s how animals eat.

After both visits, I was startled to emerge and find myself back in those depressing surroundings. Ferrari’s is world unto itself, a pleasant tradition nicely maintained.

Dinner for three, with tax and tip and a couple of glasses of wine, was $98.


The Troy Public Library has opened its Café in the Courtyard (100 Second St.), with food provided by Ann Misir of Annie’s Catering. It’s open weekdays for lunch from 11:30 to 2, and the menu includes deli sandwiches, soups and salads. Or just go for the homemade desserts and the variety of coffee. A number of special food features also are planned for July and August; call the library for more info at 274-7071. . . . The Schenectady Symphony Orchestra presents a Classical Breakfast at 9:30 AM Sunday, Aug. 4, at Schenectady’s Central Park Pavilion; the event features music played by members of the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra, including the Women of Note string quartet. The event is sponsored by Schenectady VanCurler Music, with food provided by Sodexho Marriott and Dunkin’ Donuts, among other local businesses, with pastries, bagels and muffins, fruit and beverages. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for children under 13. For reservations, call the SSO office at 372-2500. . . . Remember to pass your scraps to Metroland.


(Please fax info to 922-7090)

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