Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, January 29, 2017-2:58 pm
Think about how long ago 1945 was for a second.
It was the last year of World War II. The Dodgers were still running the bases in Brooklyn. Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Spellbound was playing in theaters across America. And the Empire State Building was the tallest skyscraper in the world.
Yep. That sure as heck was a far cry from now.
Yet Amsterdam Avenue stalwart V & T Pizzeria & Restaurant, which opened that year, is hardly of another era; in fact, its distinctly retro decor and cuisine—old-school Italian, the kind with lots of red sauce and portions that would make Gargantua whimper—is perfect for this age … and fits it to a T. You’ll realize that immediately once you enter this soulful warmthden, which often is filled with Columbia students and local families looking for an inexpensive, well-cooked bite of something that reminds them of a world informing their consciousness. It’s a world that has opera playing over the sound system and a compact bar in the back of the house. It’s a world with red-and-white-checkered tablecloths and murals featuring famous Italian landmarks on the wall, as well as an assortment of rustic decorations filling out the areas that need context. It’s a world with neon signs out front and plain, undistinguished plates inside, warm, crusty bread that’s set out in front of you with butter, oil and vinegar for free after you sit down, and wonderful longtime waiters in ties who have this kind of exchange with their customers:
You: “I last ate here 25 years ago.”
Your waiter: “I remember you.”
You: “And my father ate here before me.”
Your waiter: “I remember him, too.”
OK, maybe it’s not the fanciest place in Manhattan. That isn’t what you need, especially when you’ve got calamari this light and greaseless (albeit somewhat lacking in squid character) coming from the kitchen. Unfortunately, the baked clams—again, Gargantua would not be displeased with the serving size—are uncouth and tough, though pleasantly sea-watery; the grain of sand you catch while chewing on these mollusks doesn’t make them any more appealing, and the breading is dry and clumpy. Good thing the entrees are better: chicken Francese features a couple of cutlets drenched in a lemony sauce; perhaps the breading is soaked by the liquid, but the meat is juicy, and the tang is apparent. Even more charming is the chicken parmigiana, which features a shockingly subtle tomato sauce teaming with a mess of delectable cheese to cover the poultry … the flavors are as deep as a Mediterranean grotto. Not that you’ll have room, but you’ll get a choice of sides with your mains, and if you opt for pastas such as spaghetti or ziti, you’ll receive a bowl Gargantua wouldn’t turn up his nose at that’s filled with the not-very-interesting noodles, plus more sauce (which in this company now seems rather tame and lethargic).
But don’t end the meal just yet. Oh, no. There’s dessert. And by dessert, we mean cannoli. And by cannoli, we mean the old-fashioned kind: homemade, crisp-crusted, ricotta-cheese-filled, peppered with tiny tidbits of candied fruit and chocolate and bursting from its pastry shell like a cornucopia from sugary times past. There are more desserts on the menu, but why bother with anything else? This is the real thing, and it’s just gorgeous. You see too few of its kind anymore in the Big Apple, anyway, so passing it up here would be a travesty.
The booze choices include sangria, a half-carafe of which costs about 11 bucks. Maybe the prices won’t take you back to 1945, but they’re close—many mains are less than $20 each, and the amount of food you get for the money is significant. Of course, the experience is, too. Places like V & T aren’t a dime a dozen in this century of smartphones and artisanal cheese; rather, they’re priceless … at least, in our estimation. So frequenting them is the best way of thanking them for the service they’ve provided to their communities over the years.
Gargantua, for sure, would agree in a heartbeat.