S and I just came back from dinner at our favorite local Italian spot—correction, it’s our favorite Italian spot, period. In my days as a publishing executive I got taken out a lot, to some pretty fine and fancy places. Babbo, I Trulli, Felidia, Beppe. I’ve been to Italy several times. What I’m saying is, I’ve eaten some mighty good Italian food. And I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the one place I find myself asking S to go again and again is a simple neighborhood joint called Cono & Sons O’Pescatore (aka Cono O’Pescatore), on the corner of Graham Avenue and Ainslie Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This is classic, old-school Italian-American cooking.
We only discovered the place a month or two ago, but tonight was our fourth (maybe fifth) time there. When you first enter, check out the antipasto on display behind glass to your right—platters of quick-fried cauliflower and stuffed peppers, cheeses and meats, just waiting to be served up. On a previous visit, I had a vegetarian assortment as my main course, and it was all lip-smacking good. The main room is nothing remarkable, just a bunch of tables and chairs with some cheesy Italianesque paintings on the walls and forests of potted trees blocking the windows. But the staff is extremely friendly and solicitous—they’re already beginning to remember us—and the bread is crusty. This is the kind of Italian restaurant where the bread comes with pats of foil-wrapped, ice-cold butter. No shallow bowls of herb-infused extra virgin olive oil here, thank you very much. Like I said: this is old-school.
There is one dish we’ve ordered every single time we’ve gone: Pasta Fagiole. We split a bowl, because it’s so freakin’ huge we’d never have room for a main course otherwise. Six or seven different kinds of pasta, each one perfectly cooked (how on earth do they do that?), cannellini beans, some herbs, maybe some garlic, in not too much tomatoey broth. There’s a dollop of tomato sauce in the middle to stir in, and grated cheese. It’s really more of a bowl of pasta than an actual soup. Oh I could just die. When S got up to go to the bathroom near the end of the bowl, I was shocked and delighted that he left me alone with it, the better to wipe a crust of bread along the bottom, and savor every last bit of hefty flavor.
After that, when we were already well on our way to being full, came Chicken a la Cono: strips of chicken breast sautéed with mushrooms, thinly sliced potatoes, and vinegary red peppers. The whole thing was well browned and very slightly greasy, in a good way. S had penne puttanesca, and as he put it, “Man, those whores were on to something.” Chunky red sauce, with capers and big black oil-cured olives, still with pits. We barely managed to finish half our meals.
The whole bill was $40, and we’ve got enough leftovers for tomorrow. And afterwards, it has become our habit to walk around the corner to Fortunato Brothers for gelato, as if we need it…
I must say, most days I still miss my old neighborhood—I left Astoria to move in with S—but as long as there are remnants like this of the Italian neighborhood that Williamsburg used to be, I’ll be just fine.