This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.[Kreiger, 12/3/09]
Though retiring in appearance—a commonplace green awning over the corner storefront of the deeply uninspiring, block-long Bruson Building—it's impossible for Armondo's not to stand out. It's basically the only old-school Italian joint in this overwhelmingly Indian section of Jackson Heights. It's been at the corner of 37th Avenue and 75th Street for more than 40 years, but nothing about the interior indicates age, save, perhaps, the enormous wooden breakfront one passes through to get inside. The rest was given a fairly typical redo a few years back (though those chocolate-hued leather booths are mighty inviting).
Don't look for Armondo. The place has been owned for the past 37 years by the conscientious Jerry Crisci. (You'll see his name in modest lettering above "Armondo's" on the awning.) Crisci came over from Italy on the final voyage of the Andrea Doria in 1956. The restaurateur's a thin man with dark hair and glasses. He pays a call to every table with an officious and friendly air, coming off, in his v-neck sweater, like a sort of Emilia-Romagna Mr. Rogers. Most of the diners know him well—and each other as well. Though one table of five elderly people said not a word to a nearby booth of three elderly people during their meal, they all greeted and shook hands upon getting up. Turned out they were all going to the same Christmas party the following week.
Parties happen at Armondo's, too. The clientele—mainly locals who have long lived in the area, or who have moved away but still visit—is very loyal. One guy named Joe—a topic of much conversation at one table—apparently rents the place every now and then for a big shebang, inviting several dozen of his closest friends and offering them a choice of two entrees. A recent such bash presented a difficulty for Crisci. A 40-year regular who now lives in Florida, but dines at Armondo's every time she comes to New York, phoned to say she planned the eat the same night as Joe's shindig. Marone! "We figured it out," said Crisci. "She's going to come at 5 and be out by 7."
Also named Joe is Jerry's son, who waits on table with a nervous urge to please. The vibe at Armondo's is hopelessly old-fashioned ("Proper attire please" reads a sign) and so is the fare; espresso comes to the table with a bottle of anisette. But the Clams Possilipo were surprisingly toothsome and savory (I've heard the clam dishes in general praised elsewhere; "I only use fresh stuff" said Crisci), and the chef lavished some personal attention on my ravioli filled with shredded chicken. Allowed to select my own sauce, I had chosen pesto, but Joe communicated the chef's desire to try Alfredo sauce with truffle oil instead, if I agreed. I did. The chef was right.
The food isn't expensive, but it isn't cheap. Entrees range from the mid teens to high twenties. But I imagine the regulars are paying as much for the staff's attentions and the family-like atmosphere as the food. One old man wandered in at 9 and ordered a bowl of chicken soup. When an overly large serving arrived, he looked worried. "Don't worry," said the server. "You don't have to finish it." The man's cell phone rang a few sips in. "I'm at Jerry," he told the caller, "trying to have a cup of soup."
—Brooks of Sheffield