ROTTERDAM Johnny C’s is inexpensive and good, and they’re nice. What more can you want from a small family-owned Italian restaurant?
Quite a few years back, I’d heard about Johnny’s and their take-out bucket of spaghetti. It seemed odd at the time, but now it appears prescient, given that many restaurants offer to-go family dinners, and you can buy whole meals at the supermarket.
I was amused at the thought of a bucket as a vessel for spaghetti, but why not? A bucket of ziti or spaghetti, six meatballs and bread will feed a family for $17.95. Other prices are similarly reasonable. The chicken parm ($13.95) comes with choice of pasta, soup or salad and fresh bread. That’s on the low end of the price scale around the Capital Region.
Johnny C’s Pizzeria & Family Restaurant
WHERE: 1821 Altamont Avenue, Rotterdam. 355-8900
WHEN: 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $40.93 with one coffee, tax, and tip (not including lasagna)
MORE INFO: Wheelchair accessible. Children’s Menu. Reservations accepted. Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, Discover.
You can start with mussels marinara or a variety of fried goodies such as mozzarella sticks and calamari. There are wings, pizza, hot sandwiches and a respectable selection of veal, seafood and Italian specialties like stuffed shells. It’s more than a pizzeria.
You can enjoy these wonderful things in the comfortable dining room of the compact restaurant. You enter into a small waiting area that opens to the dining room; the bar is on the left. Virginia counted 20 tables of four, which can be pushed together, as they were that night. Two big intergenerational groups that looked like families took up three tables each.
We were surprised to see people lined up waiting for tables when we arrived, but Wednesday is $7.95 chicken parm night at Johnny’s (add a dollar to go). It’s an incredible price and includes everything: soup or salad, fantastic bread and a hearty side of pasta. No wonder the one parking spot left was halfway on the sidewalk.
After about 10 minutes, we were seated comfortably on metal and plastic padded chairs and admiring the decor. It’s tidy and unpretentious, with striped wallpaper and a companion border over a wood chair rail, carpeting, wood tables and artificial hanging plants, perhaps a bit dated but comfortable. Every table was occupied, and the staff was moving purposefully around the dining room.
Thick-crusted, tasty Italian bread from the Napoli Bakery in Schenectady came with little packets of butter, and had we eaten all there was we’d have no room for dinner. But if it was warm it would have all been gone.
We started with shrimp jammers ($6.95) just out of curiosity and liked them very much. Fat shrimp share space in a thick seasoned breading with Monterey Jack cheese, and they are deep-fried, ideally, just like ours. I wasn’t too sure about the combination, but they break easily into one half shrimp, the other half cheese. Yum. We didn’t use the mild salsa because they were good enough on their own.
Virginia opted for soup ($1.50 with meal), and she liked it. Their Italian wedding soup is good, she said, and she commented favorably on the generously sized meatballs. Saltines for the soup were thoughtfully included in the bread basket.
I love an iceberg salad done well, and Johnny C’s does it well, starting with a chilly glass plate. The lettuce is cut into bite-sized pieces, there was a wedge of pink tomato, some cucumber slices and delicious garlic croutons, which are house-made. I love raspberry vinaigrette with cold iceberg lettuce, and I poured just what I wanted from the small plastic cup on the side. Very nice.
We entertained ourselves by watching big plates of delicious-looking food get carried past our table, swooning over the golden chunky french fries. After a short wait, our dinners arrived. I got the $7.95 chicken parm special, with a double boneless breast sprawled across the plate and a pile of rigatoni with marinara on the side. The breading could have been crisper, and the mozzarella cheese a bit more generous, but it tasted good and was well worth the price. I’m on a diet, but I finished most of the chicken and brought home the rigatoni. Their red sauce does the job, and it won’t offend anyone. All in all, I was very pleased.
Virginia was similarly pleased with the pasta primavera ($13.95), an item I wish I saw more often on menus. She chose red sauce over garlic butter sauce and said it was like the marinara on my pasta but with more flavor. The vegetables tasted fresh, especially the broccoli, green peppers and chopped tomatoes. She hardly made a dent in it and was pleased to bring home enough for two meals.
Johnny C’s has homemade rice pudding, but we passed. I ordered lasagna ($12.95) to go for husband Eric. That’s what I’ll have when I go back. It’s delicious, loaded with melted mozzarella cheese and layered with meat. I plotted to finish it the next day, but Eric drove home from work and polished it off for lunch; it was that good.
Our server attended to our needs courteously and efficiently, and Virginia’s coffee was topped off at the appropriate times. The pace of the meal was just right, even with the crowd.
Johnny C’s is an example of what Schenectady does so well: small, family-owned Italian restaurants with good, inexpensive food, and bakeries that supply excellent Italian bread. We should support those places and help keep the city’s Italian heritage alive.