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Friday, April 12, 2019

Troy’s Tasty Italia

From the Food Vault Dept.: I began my restaurant-reviewing career, such as it was, in 1986 with a column titled “Byron’s Blue Plate Special” in Albany’s Metroland magazine, which had yet to become an alt-weekly. Because we had no budget for meals, I suggested we ask restaurants to comp us, and write about what it is they do well. That format lasted nine months, after which a budget was found. And I promise you that I eventually turned in more interesting pieces. This piece also dates from a time when Troy, NY, was on the brink of becoming an exceptional  culinary center – but, like so much in the Capital Region, that went away.


HOW DO YOU GO FROM running an art gallery to running a restaurant? If you follow Anthony and Joseph Busone’s example, you just add the restaurant. Actually, they had a gallery a few doors down from their current location at The Italia, but now feature showings of area artists that hang in the dining room for eight weeks at a time.

The author (L) with Anthony and Joseph Busone
Photo by Drew Kinum
“Something for the eyes, something for the ears – and something for the palate,” is how Joseph described the experience of dining at his restaurant, because the brothers’ interest in music also plays a part. When there isn’t live jazz, as happens Friday and Saturday nights, there is recorded music, hailing from the golden age of jazz and swing.

But our tough mission was to sample the food. We picked a quiet time for the visit: a late weekday afternoon. We were joined by Drew’s brother, an Italian-food specialist.

Although the menu is divided into categories of pasta, seafood, chicken, veal, and so on, the top-of-the-page specialty was good enough for me as an entrée. For an appetizer, I chose from a hand-printed list of daily specials: Carciofi Ripieri features that edible cousin of the thistle, the artichoke. In this recipe it is stuffed with a mixture of bread crumbs, seasoning, and artichoke hearts.

Both Drew and his brother chose the soup of the day, a light broth with cheese-filled tortellini. All of us share a militant anti-salt bias (“away with this shaker!”) and were pleased by the subtle use of the stuff.

A salad came with each of the entrées; gratifying to see that the Italian reputation for creative work with greens was reflected in the arrangement on the little plate. The house Italian dressing had the pungency I like, too.

As the familiar strains of Count Basie’s piano came over the speakers, Dawn, our affable waitress, served the entrées.

Ed thought he’d had all manner of fettuccine Alfredo before, but Anthony suggested he try it with the tomato pasta. All the pasta is made by the boys’ mother, and ‘’it’s a madhouse here if we run short of it,” Dawn said. It also was Mrs. Busone who first taught Anthony and Joseph to cook, so proof of her authority is asserted with every dish that goes on the table.

The. tomato added just the right contrast to the traditional sauce of cream, cheese, and egg yolk; the orange color was an unexpected decorative touch.

The fettuccine with white clam sauce served to Drew was a bountiful helping of pasta topped with an equally generous portion of minced clams and just enough garlic to tickle the nose.

But I want to tell you, my veal Piemontese was out of this world. Moist slices of meat from the tenderloin, sauteed with apple slices and onions, finished with cream. You don’t need to bring a knife near the plate, but I used one anyway to fight off sneak attacks from the Kinum brothers, who were intent on snagging more than the minuscule bits I offered.

The wine with the funny-sounding name was a crisp, dry accompaniment to the meal: an Antinori bottle of Est! Est! Est! (said to have been the cry of the traveling monk who discovered just the right spot for refreshment near Lake Bolsena in central Italy).

It was just past five and people began to throng into the restaurant. There is a pizza selection on the rear of the menu, and we saw a pie or two on the way to a table, but most of the customers were here for an early dinner.

Cheesecake from the New Skeete Nuns is always a great accompaniment to coffee, and Drew couldn’t resist; his brother opted for the double-mousse pie while I took it easy with a small slice of spumoni.

“We’ve been here for just a little over two years,” Joseph told me. “We’re open seven days and Anthony and I take turns in the kitchen. Quality is  big thing with us, and I think we also serve .nice-sized portions.

“But we’re chef-owners who are always in the kitchen, and I think that makes a big difference. We’re doing well and that’s why we’re going to keep doing better.”

THE ITALIA • 24 Fourth St., Troy • 273-xxxx. Full bar. Lunch 11:30-2:30 Tuesday-Friday; dinner 5-10 Monday-Thursday, 5-11 Friday-Saturday. Sunday dinner 4-9. Reservations suggested. AE, MC, V.

Reviews for “Byron’s Blue Plate Special” are written after Byron finishes dessert. Before that, he picks a place, tells the owner when he’s coming and mentions that a) he expects to be wined and dined like royalty, and b) he doesn’t plan to pay for any of it.

Your dining experience will no doubt be under dissimilar circumstances, but don’t let that stop you from visiting the establishments surveyed in this space.

Metroland Magazine, 1 May 1986

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