Making a visit to Cono and Son’s Opescatore
in Williamsburg is like taking a pleasurable trip back through
time to Little Italy circa 1950.
Those sepia-toned pictures - of kids playing handball on quiet side streets, quaint pasticcerias with windows boasting impossibly frilly, decadent sweets and tables populated with men sipping espressos while their cigarettes smolder - suddenly transform into living color when you’re heading for Ainslie Street and Graham Avenue.
You can’t miss this corner, also named Via S. Cono for the restaurant, which has been in Williamsburg for 19 years, but has been in business for 45 years in several locations. As you enter Cono’s, you’re greeted with a window of gaily colored platters brimming with the makings of heart-stopping hot and cold antipasto combinations. There’s a small bar whose every seat is taken by men with dark, slicked-back hair.
Cono’s has an elegant, spacious dining room made to seem more intimate with its lowered ceiling. The formally dressed waitstaff sees to all of those little extras: the tented linen napkins, the surprising scent of fresh flowers on every table and, most importantly, gracious service. (Cono’s even has its own - albeit small - parking lot behind the restaurant.)
The extensive Italian menu offering dozens of fish dishes as well as chicken, veal, steaks and more is matched by an equally lengthy wine list that offers everything from affordable wines by the glass to $250 Super Tuscans. We shared the room with young families, dolled up seniors on double dates and romantic dates for two.
We swooned over Chef Cono Natale’s cold antipasto platter, scallops marinara over linguine and, for dessert, zabaglione.
The cold antipasto was akin to the Italian version of dim sum in Chinese restaurants - a sampling of bite-size delights. We were treated to garlicky string beans, grilled red peppers, eggplant and zucchini, broccoli, various cheeses ranging from a creamy fresh mozzarella to a solid, pungent Parmigiano Reggiano and salami.
Every last bite was fresh, delicious and paired perfectly with its platter partners. This extravaganza was reminiscent of my favorite meals while on my honeymoon in Sicily. In retrospect, it seems my wave of nostalgia hindered my ability to control myself: my husband and I sopped up every last bit of the remaining olive oil-rich crumbs on our plates with the fresh-baked bread.
A scrumptious, sweet marinara sauce was the perfect complement for my entree - a substantial portion of scallops tossed with linguini and topped with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese. (The linguine tasted house-made, but according to the waiter, I was fooled by the above-par flavor.)
Next time, we’re delving into the tornido di pesci for two, a pile of clams, shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels, whiting and filet of sole sauteed in a wine and tomato sauce and served with rice.
The only dish shy of a bull’s eye was the chicken alla Cono, served with roasted potatoes, mushrooms and red peppers. The dish was served piping hot and a bit dry.
After this substantial feast, a light dessert was in order and Cono’s did not disappoint. Their light-as-air zabaglione is a frothy, warm, winey mixture of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine tossed with quartered strawberries. Served in a wide-mouthed wineglass, the orange-yellow concoction, topped with a sprig of mint, tasted as refreshing at it looked.
The crunchy cannoli, stuffed with chocolate chip ricotta and mascarpone cheese filling, and liberally laced with cinnamon, was another winner.
Cono’s Opescatore is an old-fashioned classic. It’s the place to go any time you wish to make another cherished memory of another authentic Italian meal packed with rich flavor.
Cono & Son’s Opescatore Restaurant is located at 301 Graham Ave. at Ainslie Street. Entrees: $9.95-$29.95. Tuesdays are Wine Lover’s Night and any bottled wine on the list is half-price. The restaurant accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club. For reservations or takeout, call (718) 388-0168.