Van Vranken Ave., Schenectady, 344-7077. Serving Mon-Fri 11-10,
Sat-Sun 4-10. AE, D, MC, V.
price range: $10 (pasta with choice of sauce) to $17
can be little doubt that the most popular comfort food in
America is Italian. There’s a pizza joint in every community
I know, and places with full-range menus crowd the downtowns
and back streets. Typical Italian restaurants aren’t geared
for the special-occasion, once-a-year diner: They have prices
and portions that encourage more frequent returns.
want you to come back,” says Juan Presti. “We try to serve
the best food at the most affordable prices. Are you going
to come back?”
He’s the owner of just-opened Giovanni’s, on Schenectady’s
Van Vranken Avenue.
It’s an attractive place, and the staff, chef and owner couldn’t
be more accommodating.
I didn’t determine how names were passed along in the family,
but the eponymous Giovanni is grandfather to Juan, as well
as the scion of a pizza-making family that has had restaurants
in the area for decades, eventually settling into a space
across from the Scotia high school.
Giovanni’s chef Victor Clavell brings experience from that
and many other restaurants, and invites you to sample the
menu he offers or suggest something else he might prepare
Six “chef’s dishes” are the menu’s centerpiece. These items,
served daily from 4 to 10 PM, range from a $13 eggplant rollatini
to veal marsala for $17 (chicken marsala is available for
$14). Shrimp scampi, ziti alla vodka, pasta primavera—it’s
a good sampling of classic Southern Italian fare.
You may find it confusing to see a dinner menu alongside.
Here’s where the parmesans are ($14 to $17), the lasagna ($12),
the baked ziti ($11). And other pasta dishes a-plenty, ranging
from a $10 choice of your favorite pasta with meat sauce,
marinara, garlic butter, or Alfredo sauce. As with all entrées,
salad or soup is included, and the bread basket mixes garlic
foccacia with slices from a homemade loaf. So that’s a complete
dinner for 10 bucks, and the portion is huge.
This isn’t your childhood red-sauce place. Antipasto, for
instance, features a wonderful presentation of meats and cheese
(salami, pepperoni, capicola, provolone) rolled together and
sliced, served atop the traditional lettuce bed with accompanying
veggies. The $5.50 portion is enough for two; I’m sure the
$11 plate could feed a family.
No calamari for my squid-loving daughter that night, so she
made do with mozzarella sticks ($5), which were just as expected.
We also sampled the Italian Wedding soup, one of two homemade
varieties ($4 and $6), and appreciated the hand-chopped mix
of vegetables and meats within.
Other appetizers include wings, brus chetta, steamed clams
and more, and you can get lighter-fare sandwiches of grilled
chicken or burgers.
Salads are crisp and fresh, served with good house creamy
Italian unless you otherwise specify. That and the bread basket
easily can destroy you for the entrée itself.
It did so with us. Too many Italian-restaurant meals, too
many bad habits. Like finishing all the ancillary courses.
We thought there’d been a mistake when Susan’s chicken parmesan
arrived. This $15 dish appeared on a serve-the-family platter,
with a huge cutlet (well dressed in its breading, sauce and
cheese) alongside a monster pile of sauce-topped angel hair
But Lily’s manicotti ($11) was following close behind, and
it was another outsized platter decorated with the large pasta
tubes oozing ricotta, bubbling under its sauce and mozzarella.
The child regarded it with silent awe for a moment, then consumed
exactly one of those tubes before surrendering.
If you know the Scotia Giovanni’s, you know the pizza. It’s
been a mainstay for decades, and now it’s here. A six-cut
pie is $8; add $1.75 for each topping. Eight- and 16-cut pizzas
are $10 and $15, respectively, with an increase in the topping
price as well. I like to crowd as much as possible onto the
pizza’s inviting palette, but I’m also a sucker for pizza
suggestions. Our server, who couldn’t have been more helpful,
steered me toward the chicken-wing pizza ($14 for an 8-cut)
and promised to make sure it was spicy enough.
Although I still find it a gimmicky pizza idea, it works.
I had to stop after one piece because I, too, was full. The
take-home bags piled up like skyscrapers. Too late did I discover
that half-portions often are available.
A lunch menu (served until 2 PM) offers burgers and subs in
addition to the regular menu. A kids’ menu puts a couple of
pasta dishes alongside the fast food-inspired selections.
Homemade desserts include canoli ($4) and cheesecake ($6).
Toward the end of our meal, Clavell stopped by the table to
make sure we were pleased. He was soon joined by Presti. They
wanted to know (with no idea why I was there) what we thought,
what we’d change. Instant market research. Now that they’re
open, they want you to be pleased, and they figure—quite rightly—that
you’re the best spokesman for your culinary well-being. When
you visit, you may have some thoughts on the matter. I didn’t.
I was too full and happy.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
you have any idea how much corn we consume? The
Sanctuary for Independent Media, the Honest Weight
Food Co-op, and Roots and Wisdom are sponsoring
the area premiere of the film documentary King
Corn at the Sanctuary for Independent
Media, 3361 6th Ave., Troy, at 6 PM tomorrow (Friday,
Feb. 15). Entrance is by donation: $10 is suggested
or $5 for students or low-income others. King
Corn examines the subsidized crop that drives
our fast-food nation by following the experience
of a group of college friends who grow and harvest
(with help from genetically modified seeds and
powerful herbicides) a bumper corn crop on an
acre of Iowa soil. But when they try to follow
their corn into the food system, what they find
raises troubling questions about how we eat—and
how we farm. . . . Remember to pass your scraps
to Metroland (food at banilsson.com).