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You May Also Enjoy: Manducatis

To get everyone through the dog days of summer, we've asked a handful of New York City literary types to write about a favorite, somewhat oddball restaurant, bar, or place of note that perhaps exists mostly off the radar. Here now, writer and former Observer reporter Chris Shott.

2009_08_manducatis.jpgManducatis in Long Island City isn’t much on outward appearances. “Ghetto,” is how the wife, who once vowed to never venture inside, described the rather nondescript storefront at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 47th Avenue.

With its rusty gated windows and retro neon signage, the place could easily pass as a dive bar, fortune teller, or massage parlor--its blazing moniker thus bringing new meaning to the Latin phrase “You Eat.”

Undeniably, Manducatis gets great word of mouth.

Touted as the heart of a neighborhood that has forever seemed on the verge of greatness, the restaurant itself has never quite reached full-fledged stardom, either. (The proprietors probably prefer it that way.)

A popular hangout for Nineties-era crime writers, who no doubt appreciated the faux mob-front façade—"Sleepers" author Lorenzo Carterra, for one, boldly called it “the best restaurant in the five boroughs"—the antiquishly decorated white-clothed dining room earns big points with romantics yearning for a familial vibe.

“Manducatis is the kind of Italian restaurant I grew up eating at,” gushed one friend. “It feels like your grandmother's living room, and the food is just as good as if you really were at grandmas, but the wait staff won't hit you with a wooden spoon if you don't finish your mound of pasta.”

The wooden spoon-wielding grandma in this case is the charming chef and co-owner, Ida Cerbone, who, alongside her affable husband Vincent, has instilled the quaint mom-and-pop shop with old-world charm since 1977.

Nowadays, the couple’s slim, bespectacled son, Anthony, plays host and sommelier, helping diners navigate the massive wine list (the cellar boasts a reported 8,000 bottles).

Oenophiles of modest means may shutter from the initial sticker shock; page after page of ancient vintages with modernly inflated price tags. But, as Anthony will assure you, he knows the current selection a lot better than he knows Microsoft Excel. (That is to say, the thick binder isn’t exactly up to date.) Want a decent Barolo for forty bucks? No problem.

Anthony also enjoys haggling over your order, hustling homemade carrot noodles cooked with garlic, tomato, and shitake mushrooms, on a recent visit, but brimming with other ideas, too.

Even my skeptical spouse, for whom most pasta is essentially poisonous, was most happily accommodated with safely gluten-free (and yet still tasty) rice penne bolognese, served up with a substantial side order of sympathy.

Turns out, Anthony himself recently endured a temporary intestinal aversion to wheat. Such are the hazards of growing up in a pasta paradise. How he ever survived that time without his mother’s eponymous Shrimp all Ida is an Italian miracle.
— Chris Shott
[photo credit]