When opting for an upscale restaurant, I decided to ask my father, a Fordham Alumnus, where great quality food meets a casual environment. A proud Italian, he directed me to one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in the neighborhood.
Mario’s penne vodka entree ranks among the most popular Arthur Ave. dishes. (Photo by Christina Fereini/The Ram)
One of the most traditional eateries where a group of people can enjoy a fairly-priced, full-course meal is Mario’s Restaurant, located at 2342 Arthur Ave.
Our host seated us on the right hand side of the dining room. There were many tables, about 30 to 35 with four people on average per seating arrangement. With that being said, we were treated with extreme promptness and even had the opportunity to have the extensive specials list read to us, twice.
The menu was somewhat lengthy and included dishes such as veal parmesan, lobster tail oreganate and shrimp scampi. I chose to start with the fried calamari and end with the penne vodka, without chicken. My friend chose the special, which included a sauteed chicken breast topped with smoked mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, broccoli rabe and a side of fresh penne pasta with garlic and oil.
For the rest of the evening, our server guided us toward the most delectable Mario’s experience. Each guest begins the evening with one basket of warm, freshly baked Italian bread speckled with sesame seeds and fresh cracked black pepper. The bread is accompanied by incredibly authentic olive oil and standard butter packets.
To drink, our server recommended the Chianti ‘Classico,’ which was a fruit-forward wine to pair with our light dinner entrees. Each entrée also comes with a side salad, which came out rather quickly. Guests choose the house vinaigrette or other more familiar options such as ranch and regular Italian dressing.
The calamari came out within seven minutes and our server informed me that on a busy evening the appetizer would most likely take about 10 to 15 minutes, and the entree 20 to 25. It felt pleasant to receive special treatment.
Our calamari came out flaming hot and temptingly crispy. There was even a slight browning at the top of the squid and to the side was a heaping amount of marinara sauce, carefully flavored with garlic and a touch of hotness. Lemon wedges painted the dish with a spot of color.
The entrees were more on the simple side, yet we received a hefty amount of food that lasted two days. My penne vodka was slathered with just the right amount of sauce, which had a bright pink and orange color to it. Upon taking my first bite, I discovered some mushrooms, tomatoes, garlic and extremely sweet Vidalia onions in the sauce — quite surprising and extremely delicious. The mushrooms gave the sauce a more earthy taste, while the tomatoes and Vidalia onions added a smooth, sweet and crunchy texture to juxtapose the smoothness of the penne and sauce.
The penne vodka was not only impressing with its size and uniquely familiar taste, the price was also decent: $17.25. For two days worth of food, I could not help but smile a little.
On the other hand, the chicken and mozzarella was a simpler dish. I discovered that the garlic and oil sauce was much lighter in consistency, but a person who wishes to have a more authentic Italian experience should stray away from this straightforward dish. The special was $20 and the calamari fritti was $21. We could not really go wrong with our choices, and in a way we played it safe. However, the quality of the food was the deciding factor of our approval.
It is safe to say that an average student should be aware that dining at Mario’s Restaurant is a splurge. When we asked for the check, after wrapping up half of our meal, the bill read $81.00 for dinner for two, wine included. I do not believe that I could afford to come back to Mario’s on a regular basis, but it was an interestingly pleasant experience, and I intend to go back.
If you are a person who wants to experience the heart of Arthur Avenue, without all of the pressure of dining in a more fancy environment, try Mario’s Restaurant. This taste of Italy comes with the environment of Fordham, but with a relaxing feel of the far away wine and pasta country.