February is a good month for comfort of sorts but most especially for comfort food. Warm, nourishing and the more traditional the better. So right now seems like the ideal time to head over to Bamonte's in Brooklyn. Bamonte's may be celebrating its 115th year but it is brand spanking new to me--or was until Camille introduced me to it in this week's post. Now I'm hooked. Think you will be, too...
Every year hundreds of new restaurants open in New York City. It's exciting to get swept up in the tide of eating at hot new spots, making sure to keep up on current trends, techniques, and chef shuffling. But the majority of new restaurants don't make it more than five years in this tough and demanding city. Restaurants with the staying power to stand firm through all the years and hurtles have succeeded for a reason. And I'm equally, if not more, intrigued by these institutions as the hip American gastropub that just opened around the corner.
Lovers of red sauce classics pack the Bamonte's dining room.
Bamonte's is one of these venerated institutions. It opened in 1900, incidentally the same year as Ralph's in Philadelphia, which is credited for being the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S. Bamonte's is now owned by the 3rd and 4th generations of the family, and not much has changed in those 115 years. Not the waiters, the menu, the clientele. They haven't even bothered to make a website since the creation of computers and the internet. It's been the neighborhood joint ever since that area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn was a largely Italian-concentrated community. And Bamonte's extudes that sense of community. Families, friends, regulars gather over platters of cheese-stuffed agnolotti, pork chops smothered in hot and sweet vinegar peppers, and chicken rollatini. They come to celebrate birthdays, weddings, promotions, holidays, or just a Sunday
An ancient cash register sits behind the bar.
Behind the white tablecloths, the walls, ceiling, carpet, and velvet drapes are all a deep maroon. The dark wood paneling of the front bar area wanders through the arched wooden entrance into the dining room where it ends up covered in framed memorabilia. Plaques commemorate the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the restaurant, among others. Most of them are signed “From The Boys,” making you wonder if the rumors about this being an old mob hangout are true. Signed pictures of James Gandolfini and Joe DiMaggio hang in the bar. The datedness of the décor is so obvious and endearing. If nothing else gives it away, the phone booths and cigarette dispenser in the bar definitely will.
The most obvious change that took place during the latest renovations in the 1950s is the shiny, brightly lit kitchen in the back of the restaurant behind a wall of glass. It's a stark backdrop to an otherwise rich atmosphere, but one look at the gravy coming out of that kitchen in the arms of the tuxedoed waiters and there's no doubt that it fits the bill.
Veal Parmigiana comes with potatoes and green beans.
Sauteed escarole and linguine with clams are served in generous helpings.
That classic tomato sauce bubbles on top of veal parmigiana and under gooey mozzarella, douses the mussels marinara, layers the chicken and spinach lasagna, and adorns spaghetti and meatballs. It's thinly laid below the clams cassino too, succulent and saucy, each capped with perfectly chewy, crunchy bacon and fresh parsley. The hearty soup pasta e fagioli with penne and white beans is simple and delicious. Rigatoni a la vodka, linguini with clams, and tortellini with bolognese are all hits on this vast menu that runs the gamut of comforting Italian-American classics. Order an entree if only for the incredibly tender and well-seasoned hunks of potatoes that come with it, and it's accompanying vegetable of the day. In our case this was green beans, with the same healthy amount of garlic as most items on their menu.
Soft bread soaks up hearty tomato sauce from Clams Cassino and Pasta e Fagioli.
As you can imagine, the dessert selection includes fluffy tiramisu, cannolis with dense, sweet ricotta filling, chocolate mousse, and spumoni ice cream. We also tried the tortoni, a dome of sweet cream ice cream topped with a good ol' maraschino cherry that completely appealed to my inner kid.
Tiramisu, Cannoli, and Tortoni give an excuse to stick around.
Wine and beer are only sold by the bottle here, none by the glass. But if you aren't up for a whole bottle of wine there are a couple of choices of half bottles. There is also a full bar, however stick to the basics. Any expectations of a fancy cocktail program with grapefruit flavored bitters and bacon infused bourbon should be left at the door with all other trends.
A comforting constant in an ever-changing neighborhood and city.
Bamonte's is dedicated to tried and true classics. And that's why people go there, that's what makes and keeps regular customers. It's about comfort, tradition, family, and food. We all sometimes succumb to nostalgia, and even if you aren't a regular, Bamonte's will welcome you as one for the night.
Bamonte's, 32 Withers St., Brooklyn, NY
Mon, Wed, Thurs: 12-10pm/ Fri, Sat: 12-11pm/ Sun: 1-10pm