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The Cover’s Plain, but the Book Ain’t
By B.A. Nilsson

De Marco’s Restaurant
1965 Central Ave., Colonie, 456-7574. Serving dinner Sun-Wed 4-10, Thu-Sat 4-11. AE, D, MC, V.
Cuisine: blue-collar Italian
Entrée price range: $6 (steak-and-cheese sub) to $15 (shrimp scampi over pasta)
Ambience: unadorned
Clientele: neighbors and longtime friends

We finished a meal and scraped back our chairs and I, if I’m remembering correctly, even slapped my formidable belly. The take-out containers towered before us, our dessert plates held more than a little residue. “That was great,” someone said. “Really, really good,” agreed another.

Which came as a bit of a surprise, because our expectations of De Marco’s in Colonie were based on the rather plain look of the place, a look that suggested the food might be an afterthought. More to the point, the most impressive feature was the lively bar, flanked by two dining rooms with unclothed tables. And it took a few minutes before we were noticed and seated.

Once we settled in, however, and service kicked into gear, we sampled a selection of mainstream Italian items nicely prepared and presented in a basic but attractive manner.

De Marco’s opened almost 35 years ago, run for the first three decades by Rose De Marco, then by her granddaughter Christine. Last April, it was sold to Torey Scaringe, who is maintaining the name and menu, and has hired chef Michelle Vincent to carry on the recipes as well as come up with some new ones.

One of which is a preparation of Asiago-filled ravioli served with a vodka cream sauce. It was listed on the small page of specials handed out with the menus, but the menu itself covers a wide range of pasta dishes, pasta-and-meat combos, salads, subs and even an entrée of top sirloin with pasta or fries ($12).

Appetizers include the day’s soup ($2 or $2.50), which is included with your entrée if you don’t choose salad instead. Chicken Florentine provided a good example of some superior soupmaking skills, with chicken bits and spinach competing for what little room remained in the cup.

Standard bar fare like fried mozzarella sticks and jalapeño poppers are offered; chicken fingers and wings also are popular starters, all of it priced in the $5 range. Among the less common items are spinach or pepperoni pizza bread and chicken quesadillas—and there’s a $7.50 sampler that combines a bunch of the fried stuff.

Antipasto is offered in three sizes; we picked the middle-sized one for four of us (“large” as opposed to “jumbo,” $10.50) and received a very hefty plate of lettuce (mostly iceberg) and the standard array of sliced cold cuts, cheeses, olives, carrots and the like. Not the most flavor-varied antipasto I’ve seen, but it was exactly what I was expecting and provided whatever greens this meal would feature.

Pizza is another De Marco’s option, six- through 12-cut pies ($7.25 to $10.75) with plenty of topping options, or—for a dollar more—you can have it configured as a white pizza. With grilled eggplant, fresh garlic, broccoli, meatballs and more on the toppings list, it’s simple to configure a pie to your liking. Spinach pizza is highlighted on the menu, though, so we sampled one of them and were pleased to find the spinach fresh, the crust thin and crisp, and fresh tomatoes and feta cheese among the accompaniments.

Chicken parmesan ($11.50) joins similar preparations of chicken and veal on the entrée list, while meatball parmesan is among the “baked specialties.” The chicken dish begins as a sautéed cutlet topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella before hitting the oven. Sprawling across a large plate, it’ll feed you for a couple of days, with a side of pasta to make it even more formidable.

Other entrées include standard preparations of spaghetti, ziti, linguine and cappellini, with clam sauce or garlic and anchovies making it into a couple of the dishes. Ziti is available in a couple of baked configurations, a list that also includes chicken or veal sorrentino ($11.50 or $13.50).

That Asiago ravioli had sold out, much to the disappointment of one of my party, so, the server asked, “How about if we just do some of the regular ravioli in the vodka cream sauce?” And so it was done: a plate of big, circular ravioli appropriately sauced with the pinkish cream, the flavor a rich combo of earthy and sweet.

Cavatelli looked homemade; with meatballs or sausage it’s $10. Easy decision: Sausage has a more complicated flavor than meatballs, and hot sausage is more satisfying than the sweet variety. And the sausage here was crisp and tasty, a flavor carried into the baked meat lasagna ($10), where sausage is featured amid a tower of pasta and ricotta and mozzarella cheese, another big portion that ended up traveling home.

“It’s very satisfying,” says Scaringe, “and I like the challenge.” He has plans for improvements that include a patio out front and the return of weekday lunches. “I’d also like to do a Sunday brunch, a buffet.” What about tablecloths in the dining room?

“Haven’t had a big demand for that,” he answers. “We’re trying to keep this a family-oriented place, and when you get a party of five with three screaming 2-year-olds, you appreciate having no linen there.”

Desserts include a horribly rich chocolate cake and a not-so-rich-but-still-rich spumoni ice cream, flavors easy to share around the very satisfied table. So don’t let the casual look of the place fool you—there’s serious eating going on here.

Click here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.

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