O’Pescatore, where art thou?

Can someone please tell me how to tell average old-school red sauce places apart from each other?  I really can’t figure it out.  They’ve all got the standards, and some of them have got specials, but when it boils right down to it, they’re all so same-y that it’s basically just an exercise in finding one that’s polite and reasonably inexpensive.

Of course, part of the fun of going to a place like Cono and Sons O’Pescatore (Graham Avenue and Ainslie Street, Brooklyn) is being totally out of place – a young, relatively hip looking couple strolls in, and the waiters and staff scratch their heads and wonder why.  Hey, I like Italian-American food as much as the next WASP, and my girlfriend is no slouch herself, but you’d figure they’d be used to it by now – the restaurant IS in Williamsburg, after all, and it’s not like it was crowded (I think there were two other tables in our dining room that were full, and they may have had a second dining room available).

Nonetheless, if the staff were slightly nonplussed and perhaps a little confused by our order of three dishes containing pasta, they certainly were efficient – the dishes arrived in a very timely fashion, indeed.  Per this blog, we had the pasta with fagioli as a starter, as well as the broccoli rabe.  Our choices were the gnocchi (advertised as homemade) with Bolognese, and a special linguini with three mushrooms and chunks of veal in red sauce.  In the little time we waited before and between courses, we noshed on fairly unspectacular bread and speculated about the windows – they’re nearly completely obscured with plants living in old champagne buckets.  It’s almost as though the clientele has a privacy fetish…hmm.

No Sopranos-style tables this time, though: just us and, at first, the fagioli and broccoli.  There was a moment of suspicion on my part when the waiter initially said that the broccoli rabe was out of season.  He then went to confer with his bosses in the back; I imagined the conversation going something like: “Hey, do we have any broccoli rabe frozen?  This young couple wants some, and I don’t think they can tell the difference.”

I suppose their estimations may have been correct – we both LOVED the rabe, and it was absolutely our favorite dish of the evening.  Oily (but not over-oiled), garlicky, slightly bitter, and with a subtle undercurrent of pepper, it was the only iteration of the dish my girlfriend had ever liked, and one of the better varieties I’ve had.  I think it was $9, but the menu didn’t say, and I forgot to take specific note when the check came.

I wish I could say the rest of the dishes titillated that much.  As the waiters were to us, I was to the bowl of fagioli pasta – okay, so there’s five different kinds of pasta in there.  So I guess they use the remnants of everything else, chuck some beans and a dash of soup in, and call it a meal?  To me, it seemed like something I would have thrown together in college on a low budget – fine, but probably not worth $7.

Our mains weren’t terribly unique, either.  While the homemade gnocchi ($12) were good (my girlfriend liked them best just as they came out of the kitchen), I thought the sauce did them little justice.  And while the three-mushroom sauce accompanying the veal and linguini was fine, I’d have been just fine without the rather tough veal and the accompanying $17 price tag.  “Just throw the mushroom sauce on the gnocchi, and you’ve got something much more interesting,” I said, glancing around to make sure our waiter wasn’t in earshot.

We skipped dessert, the check already a bit higher than we’d hoped.  Perhaps we should have taken Sietsema’s advice and gone to the cheaper, less formal pizzeria across the street.  Like the last remaining ancient Italian restaurants of Carroll Gardens (the former northern end of Italian Red Hook), Cono O’Pescatore seems to exist to cater primarily to those who remember the dishes from old days, rather than those from other backgrounds who want to learn about them.  It’s too bad, really – I don’t imagine most of these places will be around for many more years, and it’s a tradition that’s such an integral part of New York City history that it’s really a shame to lose it through attrition and indifference.

My girlfriend and I agreed: if one wants old-school Italian-American cuisine, it would be better to save money for a splurge at Roberto’s in the Bronx rather than half-ass it at Cono’s or something like it.  There, at least the atmosphere and food are worth the journey and expense.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “O’Pescatore, where art thou?

  1. Anonymous

    Is this place on the Sietsma list?

  2. I don’t have the Italian list in front of me, but I kind of doubt it. It’s not on the 2005 list, for sure.

  3. Anonymous

    Just wondering, as you appear to be departing more and more from the list of 100, although I had thought working your way through the list of 100 was your stated goal.Not that there’s anything wrong with that….. 🙂

  4. Full disclosure: I’ve done (but not necessarily reviewed) 41/100 of the 2005 list so far (I’d have 42 if Upi Jaya hadn’t been closed both times I’ve gone, bastards).I’ve been under the weather a lot lately, so sticking close to home has been a good idea. Spring’s here or nearby, though, which is both sweet and likely to re-induce my wanderlust.A little mission-discipline is probably in order, though.

  5. Abe

    The Pizzeria across the street was something absurd like #3 on the italian list. There is no relation between the two other than the name and that they are across the street. There are more people named Cono in Williamsburg than anywhere else in the world as per the WSJ… The pizzeria is good for sure but I’d have never placed as high up as it landed.

  6. Anonymous

    Maybe you just need to stick to McDonalds,since it sounds like its in your league. And Im sure that Cono’s O’Pescatore will be around a lot longer than you will be in NY. Hopefully the next hip location will be in Alaska

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