By B.A. Nilsson
134 Duane Ave., Schenectady, 346-7324. Serving
lunch Mon-Fri 11-2, dinner daily 4-9. AE, CB, D, DC, MC, V.
Food: * * * *
more than 2 feet of snow piled outside—not counting the extra-high
berms built by relentless plowing—we didn’t want to budge.
Traveling, even while hungry, was appealing only if a reliable
feast awaited at the other end. We didn’t want to go someplace
new. We wanted something reliable.
When a restaurant has been thriving for 20 years, you can
bet something is going right. Thirty is an extraordinary stretch.
But Petta’s is now in its 52nd year of business, under the
auspices of the family’s third generation.
What’s the secret? “Well, my grandparents started the business,”
says Kathy Petta-Wolfe, who now runs it with her brother and
two sisters. “And we just try to make sure we keep it the
same.” This means presenting a menu with very mainstream Italian
fare, cooked by a staff that has been with the restaurant
for a long time—one of the chefs has been there for nearly
Not surprisingly, the surrounding Schenectady neighborhood
has changed, but the restaurant has accommodated those changes
(somewhat drastically, in the case of the huge parking lot,
which 20 years ago was a row of houses). The building itself
houses a banquet room, two dining rooms and bar, with a dedicated
take-out window if you’re picking up an order on the fly.
Although the nearby streets were a squeeze, the Petta’s parking
lot was clear (truckloads of snow had been removed) but sparsely
populated. We joined a few die-hards inside, many of them
at or near the bar, watching a televised sports event.
Our dinner essentially was a feast of appetizers. The menu,
printed on two sides of a plain white page, offers 16 starters,
most of them $6 to $7. A few, like shrimp cocktail or scampi
and the antipasto for two, hit $10. You can have clams any
of several popular ways, chicken wings fried or baked, mussels,
roasted peppers—or the three my party chose.
Greens and beans ($6) is as classic as it comes, a stewlike
dish of navy beans and wilted lettuce with a suitable helping
of garlic in the small amount of broth. But you’ve got a basket
of sliced Italian bread at your elbow, and it doesn’t hurt
that it’s baked in the restaurant.
And there’s part of the secret. Even though such prefab, blister-pack
emporia as the Olive Garden continue to thrive, there’s obviously
a clientele that wants the real thing, with homemade soup
and nonrobotic servers among the attractions.
The fried calamari rings ($6) are another classic, just as
you’d expect, with an intense coating of seasoned breadcrumbs
clinging to the softened fish, and a horseradish-tinged marinara
sauce alongside for dipping.
I have a regular dining companion who is on a chicken-wings
binge, ordering them wherever we go. Again, Petta’s presents
a mainstream version ($6, and you can get them breaded for
the same price) complete with celery and blue cheese dressing.
That dressing, like all of the restaurant’s salad dressings,
is made on the premises. I chose it to top my salad, where
it became too much of a good thing. It’s thick and chunky
and served so plentifully that it tended to obscure the greens
beneath. The Italian dressing, on the other hand, was a subtle
vinaigrette, applied in moderation.
Entrée specials included pork chops pizzaiola ($17), with
mushrooms and peppers, marinara and a mozzarella topping,
and chicken tortellini ($14), which proved to be a more-than-plentiful
dish of large, garlicky chicken-breast chunks sautéed with
broccoli and sliced olives and hunks of roasted pepper, tossed
at the end with tortellini. The tortellini was exceptional,
with a lighter-than-usual pasta shell enhancing the flavor.
A garlic-and-butter sauce was applied with restraint, and
would have gotten a nice kick from some good olive oil. As
it was, I made two more meals with what I brought home.
Pasta entrées start at $8 for a simple presentation; baked
manicotti or stuffed shells or lasagna or even ziti parmigiana
are slightly higher-priced variations. Ravioli or pasta e
fagioli are available as $10 entrées (and these are served
with soup or salad), and for $15 you can include clams or
shrimp with your pasta.
That soup, which was good old chicken noodle the night of
our visit, was another example of a classic served true to
form, without the excess of salt that mars the commercial
variety and far more in the way of ingredients.
Steaks and veal dishes are signature items, which we somehow
bypassed, and there are many different seafood preparations,
including unusual variants like haddock or shrimp cacciatore
($16). Of the several chicken dishes, the Sorrentino variety
($15) is a hybrid: chicken and eggplant parmigiana, putting
a thin layer of sautéed eggplant atop a sizeable array of
not-so-thin chicken breasts, topped with meat sauce and melted
cheese. This also was good for two more meals as leftovers.
Finally, an order of ziti with a big meatball ($7) from the
kids’ menu, which remained untouched.
Treats” are displayed in a refrigerator case near the door;
Terri is one of the sisters, and her New York-style cheesecake
proved to be exceptional, as was the white-chocolate-covered
raspberry ice cream. We walked out of there with six take-out
containers and a very full, very satisfied feeling.
Dinner for three, with tax and tip, a couple of glasses of
wine and dessert, was $91.
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