Welcome to the Neighborhood
By Anne Jones
So twenty years ago on a Sunday night in the Fan, chances are you’d find us in our Mulberry Street apartment scarfing up subs and pizza from Mary Angela’s, the little family-owned Italian restaurant in Carytown. They delivered, and the food was excellent, and it was a nice way to end the weekend. But tonight, on this first Sunday night of 2011, I’m in my Bellevue kitchen devouring a slice of crispy, cheesy pizza, not from Mary Angela’s, but served to me last night by Mary Angela herself. She’s the new owner, along with her husband Antonio, of Arianna’s, Lakeside’s newest eatery. And just as she was the little daughter who inspired her father to name his restaurant after her, Arianna is the daughter of Antonio and Mary Angela Altadonna. So the tradition continues. In fact, it’s been an on-going, far-reaching tradition; this is the second Arianna’s in town. The other one is on Sheppard Street in the Museum district, and it’s going gangbusters. And from the same extended Italian family – we have Picolla’s, Pronto Pizzeria, Maldini’s, Vinny’s, Pietro’s, and Mediterraneo Fine Cuisine. There may even be more, and who owns what exactly is not the point, but that’s some pretty powerful chops.
And it shows. Arianna’s has been open only since the week before Christmas, and they’ve already got regulars. And they deliver, in every sense of the word. Located next door to one of my all-time favorite shops, Embellish, Arianna’s is across the street and just a little north of Bryan Park, in the same space where the Fat Goat/Zed Café was a while back. Though the space is configured the same, the feel is entirely different from its predecessor. This feels like a neighborhood family place, and the prices reflect it. There are 8-9 booths, a few tables, dark wood paneling with bright green walls above it, nice art – all contributing to a clean, crisp and homey vibe.
In my Bellevue e-mail group, there has been some discussion about how delicious the pizza is at Arianna’s, and whether it’s authentic NY-style or not. I have no idea. I’ve never lived in New York. And last summer when I visited and did, in fact, eat pizza, it turned out to be slightly worse than frozen. I do know Arianna’s crust was crispy and homemade, just the right thickness and texture, the tomato sauce was seasoned perfectly, and the cheese was scrumptiously gooey, delectably pullable, slightly reminiscent of the old Celebrity Room pizza, a high compliment. This was my dinner Saturday night as I dined in, and tonight for leftovers at home. There is an extensive Create Your Own Pizza option on the menu with all the standards, and some specialty toppings such as eggplant, artichokes, or capers. There’s also a choice of Sicilian, style – with a thick crust. Saturday night’s pizza was preceded by a house salad. To be honest, I never hold out high hopes for salads at neighborhood Italians spots. They are usually iceberg lettuce and Thousand Island dressing (not that there’s anything wrong with that). But Arianna’s house salad was unusually crisp and fresh with a nice mix of greens, and oil and vinegar dressing (no Thousand Island available).
But Arianna’s is much more than pizza or subs. My mother ordered the Fettucine Alfredo with added chicken, and was pleased with the taste. The chicken was plentiful and tender, and the alfredo sauce cheesy and creamy, if a little bland. H. had a nice surprise with his linguine with white clam sauce. It was chock-full of fresh clams still in the open shell in a garlicky olive oil sauce, just as it should be. We started the meal with an appetizer of Toasted Ravioli, with marinara sauce for dipping. This was nicely browned ravioli, stuffed with ricotta cheese. Popcorn shrimp, fried zucchini and Cozze Saltate (mussels sautéed with white wine, spices, and tomatoes) are also offered as appetizers.
In fact, for lunch a few days earlier, I tried another appetizer as my meal: the Mozzarella Caprese – slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato with capers, olive oil and fresh basil. Pretty standard fare, but just what I hoped for, with nice cheese and fresh-tasting ingredients. At lunch, C. ordered the Philly Steak sub. Unlike me with my NY-style pizza ignorance, C. is a connoisseur of the Philly Cheese Steak sandwich. He claims there should be a little mustard (no mayo), and that the cheese is optional. The secret lies in the good hard bread, and the beef. He had to make a special request to get the condiment issues straight, but what he ended up with was near perfection. The beef tasted hand-cut and was sliced to the correct thickness and the bread fresh-baked and crusty.
I’m glad Arianna’s is in the neighborhood – it’s just what we need around here. Affordable, authentic Italian food and an extensive menu. And when one owner is in the kitchen cooking and the other is serving tables – that’s a really good sign. Mary Angela was a delightful server, extra friendly, accommodating and efficient. And they deliver. No wonder they have a handful of regulars in less than two weeks.
5107 Lakeside Avenue
Monday – Thursday 11am – 10pm; Friday and Saturday 11am – 11pm
Sunday 12pm – 10pm