Having worked at Del Posto, Tarry Lodge, and other acclaimed Italian fine dining restaurants, people often ask me where I look forward to eating. They're surprised to know that while I routinely performed perfect soigne service, can fillet a branzino table-side, and can lead a wine or service team of ten servers, I truly have no need for any of these things when I go out to have a good meal. The native New Yorker in me usually holds sway and I tend to give in to the two strong pulls: authenticity and hunger.
In a city of a disappearing landmarks, and long lost places we lament, it warms my heart and makes my mouth water when I think of Dominick’s of Arthur Avenue. It is an Italian-American culinary time capsule.
Opened in 1962 by Dominick, an immigrant from the Calabria region of Southern Italy, it replaced another restaurant called Caputo’s. Today it's run by Charlie DiPaolo, a relative of the original Dominick through marriage. In the 1980s, Dominick's was mostly a bar, but one that would offer to cook up a hearty late night dinner of steak and fries for the sanitation workers that would stop by after their shifts.
Over time Dominick’s evolved into the prototypical family style Italian restaurant with communal seating and large portions meant for sharing. As the saying goes, “often imitated but never duplicated, consultants from other family style restaurants (ahem, Carmine’s) studied the atmosphere at Dominick's assiduously. It is thankfully bereft of any foppery, or pretentious touches. People come here to eat, and eat well, plain and simple.
My wife and I walk into the boisterous, cozy, congenial atmosphere: an old fashioned wooden service bar on the left and five side-by side cafeteria style, communal tables covered in burgundy vinyl. Guests are having animated conversations across tables. A flat screen television overhead tuned to an old Yankee game adds to my feeling of comfort, almost as though we've stepped into an Italian grandmother’s Bronx living room.
We’re greeted with a warm “hey how ya doing, tonight?” and offered a drink from the bar, which is stocked with the old standards. I opt for a scotch and soda out of nostalgia. It was my late father’s cocktail of choice, and he loved Dominick’s. Danielle gets a glass of house red. A basket of bread from Madonia Bakery (located right across the street) lands on the table. Crusty, chewy, thick-cut pane di casa is accompanied by individually portioned salted butter.
The old school, knowledgeable, deferential waiter who has white apron tied around his waist then recites a myriad of home style Italian American favorite options from each available daily category. No printed menus here. He tells us what’s fresh today.
To start we order the baked clams, a dozen per “appetizer” portion, filled with fresh breadcrumbs, butter, white wine and a touch of garlic and broiled to absolute perfection. When we polish off the clams, our server then tells us about the available main course options:
The house specialty: Chicken scarpariello, chicken cooked on the bone in a spicy sauce.
Pork Chops pizzaiola or with cherry or vinegar peppers
Veal: Scarpariello, piccata, broiled, milanese, parmigiana or with potatoes
Chicken: Roasted with potatoes, piccata, milanese, parmigiana or francese
Linguine or cavatelli (procured from Borgatti's) with red sauce or with olive oil, sausage and broccoli rabe.
Keep in mind, the menu varies daily and their Sunday menu features traditional ragù with meatballs, sausage and even cutica, the braciole made of pig skin which Francis Ford Coppola served to Anthony Bourdain on a recent episode of CNN's Parts Unknown.
We settle on veal parmigiana as I hadn’t had it in years. Two large golden brown, perfectly moist, crispy fried cutlets in tangy tomato sauce coated with melted mozzarella come out, naturally on a bed of perfectly al-dente linguine marinara. This is a single portion! I immediately get why the server smirked when we asked about portion size.
My eyes roll into the back of my head as I take the first bite. Pure heaven. By the time we are done we are so full we don’t mind that they don’t serve dessert. The nearby pastry shops are all open so we can take a walk and grab something sweet.
The check total comes to $60. Dominick's prices never fail to astonish me. (Although this time I did remember that they don’t take credit cards and have cash with me) Dominick's also doesn't take reservations.
So would I appreciate a meal at Del Posto at $400 for two? Sure, but for $75 with tip, give me Dominick’s on a Monday night any time.
Address: 2335 Arthur Avenue
Hours: Mon and Wed-Sat, noon-10pm; Sun, 1pm-9pm; Tue, closed