It took three generations of the Grimaldi
family to bring Jimmy’s Italian restaurant to Bay Ridge.
In 1932, Sal Grimaldi opened Jimmy’s (named for his son) in Brooklyn Heights. Jimmy took over in 1953, and then handed the reins to his son Ralph. Ralph oversaw the restaurant from 1973 until 1987 when he sold it and decamped to Manhattan to open several eateries.
In August, chef Ralph opened Jimmy’s in Bay Ridge. Ralph’s predecessors would be pleased that few changes have been made to the original Jimmy’s formula: serve hearty Southern Italian cooking in a "continental" setting and pay attention to details. A perk exclusive to Jimmy’s is a box of reading glasses brought to the table for patrons who forget theirs at home.
The decor is a throwback to a more genteel time when "continental" dining was reserved for special occasions and diners expected to be pampered. Here, the decor matches the attentive and friendly service. The long room is painted a complexion-flattering peach with gold sconces lining the walls, and burgundy linens covering the tables.
On a Sunday evening the room is quiet with casually dressed couples of all ages sharing pasta and sipping glasses of wine.
If there’s a leitmotif to Jimmy’s, it’s abundance. Big is in here. The platters of meat made us gasp; bowls of pasta are sink-sized and overflowing. The breadbasket has four or five warm Italian breads: crusty whole wheat; a chewy, seeded twist; a simple semolina loaf; and a chewy focaccia topped with tangy tomato sauce.
With the bread came the inevitable saucer of olive oil and a sublime dish of caponata. Plum tomatoes cooked down to a rich paste bind the eggplant with chunks of soft mushrooms, sweet onions and saline slices of green olives. The eggplant in Grimaldi’s caponata is tender without being mushy and not at all oily. The stew is slightly sweet, slightly tart and rich. A little bit spooned atop the bread was the first signal that the meal would offer more than I expected.
The same could be said for a platter of grilled red peppers. Laid around the plate like a ruby-colored chrysanthemum, the peppers were served cold with a circle of anchovies in the center. Around the plate’s edge were gigantic green olives, wrinkled black olives that tasted of brine and mild, reddish brown olives with an herbal note. Extra virgin olive oil was generously drizzled over all. After grilling, the peppers took on a smoky flavor that was heightened by the salty anchovies.
Few old-style Italian restaurants omit this dish from their menu, but Jimmy’s version, with its sweet peppers and meaty, salty anchovies is a fine rendition.
Nothing on Jimmy’s pasta roundup will strike you as exotic. Most of the pastas are Italian comfort staples like mixed seafood in marinara sauce; a penne with ricotta, fresh tomato and basil; angel hair primavera; and linguine with red or white clam sauce.
When it’s prepared well, linguine with white clam sauce can soothe the soul. So often though, it’s awash in oil and the clams are rubbery. Grimaldi’s al dente linguine sat in a light broth, heady with tender clams and delicately enhanced with garlic. Clams on the half shell ringed a mound of chopped clams and garlic cloves that were roasted until brown, sweet and butter-soft.
Eating this pasta, then dipping the bread into the broth, I felt content.
There were a couple of disappointments in Grimaldi’s copious meat ragu with ziti, a special served family-style on Sunday evenings. The meatball, a mix of beef, pork and veal was lightly garlicky but too dense, and the robust flavors of beef brasciole (a long slice of beef rolled around prosciutto, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts) were lost in the rich tomato sauce. Included in this meat orgy, was a crisp, garlic-laden sausage seasoned with fennel that snapped when it was cut, and a thick slice of moist pork with a delicious rim of fat.
Eight sea scallops, each the diameter of a small saucer, made up one order of Cape Santa scallops. Seared until brittle on the exterior, sweet and moist inside, they needed only a spoonful of the light, simple white wine, garlic and lemon sauce to soar.
Jimmy’s desserts follow the same tried-and-true path as the rest of the menu. House-made tiramisu is popular at Jimmy’s as are the cheesecakes. The apple caramel cheesecake isn’t a traditional cheesecake as much as a tart of sauteed apple slices suspended in fluffy custard with a cookie-like crust. It’s surprisingly sophisticated - if not overly sweet, with more fruit than filling - and, with a cup of rich coffee, an understated way of finishing a super-sized dinner.
There are few dishes on Jimmy’s menu that you haven’t enjoyed many times before. What you’ll order at Jimmy’s, however, like the caponata with its subtle sweet and sour flavors and the aromatic linguine with white clam sauce, will be everything you’d wished for.
Jimmy’s (7204 Third Ave. at 72nd Street in Bay Ridge) accepts Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diner’s Club and Discover. Entrees: $15-$36. Family-style platters $45-$55. Jimmy’s is open for dinner seven nights a week. For reservations, call (718) 567-8300.