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Sunday, May 25, 2014

In This Corner

What’s for Dinner? Dept.: This week’s review was a fortuitous discovery, especially as Susan and I had visited a place the day before where the grilled sandwich she was served must have been dipped in used motor oil before hitting the stove. I decided it wasn’t worth writing about. But this place is.


JOE PERNICIARO HAD A PIZZERIA going in Watervliet. He’d been in the business since he got out of high school, starting at Jimmy’s Pizzeria in Troy and working his way to manager of a place in Cohoes. But the Watervliet operation was his own, and he was pleased when Charles Morton came in one day and asked for a favor: Could Joe make a batch of sauce for a church function?

Photo by B. A. Nilsson
Morton had founded Papa’s Corner Restaurant, on the other side of the Arsenal, in 1976, and still had a very successful business there. But he, too, had started with a pizzeria—in the very building where Joe was serving up pies. “Maybe some day you’ll buy me out,” he told Joe.

That day came two years ago. “He came in—we’d become friends by then—and said he was ready to retire. So my wife and I bought the place.” Morton is still around, “still able to give me advice,” says Joe. “He created everything you see here. I just try to do right by it all.”

Papa’s Corner is located toward the south end of the city, where Broadway crosses 13th Street. It has the feel of a neighborhood Italian restaurant that pulls you into the family as soon as you settle in for what’s going to be a reliably good meal. It’s the kind of place that causes me to complain, in anticipation, that I have nothing left to say about such joints, and which rewards me not only with a solid meal but also a story like Joe’s.

Chances are you’ll see his wife, Kelli, at the front. But there’s a good-sized staff there to take care of you, and even as I thought our server might be a bit too young to have the proper experience, she tried to upsell the check with an off-the-bat app suggestion that showed her to be no tyro.

Soup of the day—always homemade—is $3 or $4.25. Other starters in the $5 range include potato skins, garlic bread, mozzarella sticks and deep-fried mushrooms; chicken wings are 10 for $7, calamari is $8. A dinner salad, if it’s not included with the meal, is $1.50 and satisfies your minimum daily greens requirements, but you can neutralize that with one of the richly creamy dressings on offer. Soup up your salad, so to speak, with extra greens and veggies, including pepperoncini, for $3; Caesar is $6, chef’s salad is $7, an order of antipasto is $10.

Of course there’s spaghetti (or ziti, or shells) available in sauces that include plain tomato ($10), meat sauce ($11), garlic butter ($12) and red or white clam sauce ($15), and meatballs or sausage or peppers or mushrooms can be added for an extra buck.

A solid page of seafood selections starts with scallops fried or broiled ($21 each), haddock ditto for $17 or with added Cajun spices for a dollar more. Fried shrimp is $20, and a seafood platter that mixes all of the above is $21 broiled and a buck more fried.

More extensive dinners feature veal (Marsala, Parmigiana, Sorrento, $14-$16) and chicken  (Marsala, Parmigiana, Sorrento, $14-$15), while the ever-reliable eggplant is available alla Parmigiana ($12.45) and in a baked-and-stuffed-with-cheese casserole for $15. That was the preparation of one of the day’s specials when we visited. Pollo con formaggio ($18) put a layer of seasoned ricotta between cutlets of breaded fried chicken, the whole of it topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. My wife, the chicken freak, described it as “reassuring.” I suspect that’s because, at some point in your life’s waning years, you have accumulated so many Parmigiana and pizza moments that the combo of mozzarella and tomato sauce becomes a kind of coming home for the palate.

Like those layers? Looking for lasagne? It’s $13. Baked ziti ($12) and baked manicotti ($11) as well. Fettucine Alfredo is $15; add shrimp and broccoli for an extra $4.

But Joe got his start making pizza, so that’s what I ordered. The pies are of the rectangular, 10-cut variety, and start at $11 for the tabula rasa of tomato and cheese. Add $2 per item, which include the standard toppings of sausage, mushrooms, pepperoni, peppers, onions and extra cheese and not-so-common items like meatballs and cappicolla. I went with sausage and cappicolla, which worked nicely together on the very traditional pie, its crust edges crisp, the sauce well-balanced with flavors of oregano and basil. And I realized, to my great dismay, that I’m now elderly enough to be able to name every song that came up on the background music, drippy versions of “Blues in the Night,” “Time on My Hands” and the like. No wonder AARP keeps sending me their crap.

“Are you going to have dessert?” I asked my wife, figuring she’d suggest we split something. No. Learning it was made in-house, she wanted a piece of tiramisu all to herself, although she agreed to swap a taste of it for a sample of the excellent New York-style cheesecake I ordered ($5 each).

There’s a wall in the restaurant covered with past reviews—all of them from the Morton era. I’m delighted to be able to extol the Perniciaro regime, and have to wonder what took me so long to find the place.

Papa’s Corner Restaurant, 1297 Broadway, Watervliet, 273-3270, Serving lunch 11-4 Wed-Fri, dinner 11-9 Wed-Thu, 11-10 Fri, 4-10 Sat, 2-9 Sun. AE, D, MC, V.

Metroland Magazine, 22 May 2014

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