At the Table: Canali’s serves truly excellent food, and plenty of it

Canali’s Restaurant serves delicious Italian food, in generous portions, at a very good price. The p

Canali’s Restaurant and Banquet House

WHERE: 126 Mariaville Road, Schenectady. 355-5323,

WHEN: Tuesday to Thursday 4 to 9:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday 4 to 10 p.m., Sunday 4 to 9 p.m. Closed Monday.

HOW MUCH: $64.70 with tax, two sodas and tip.

MORE INFO: Wheelchair accessible. Reservations recommended.

Canali’s Restaurant serves delicious Italian food, in generous portions, at a very good price. The place was jammed on a weeknight with regulars who know this.

Canali’s opened in 1947, in the original brick building with a few add-ons. The main entrance brings you into the bar area, with a row of booths along the windows, and if you keep going you’ll find the hostess stand. They’ll take care of you. You should probably make reservations.

We were seated in the long main dining room, which is bisected by a low wooden wall topped with cheerful artificial flowers. There are formal white linens on the table, but the atmosphere is family-friendly casual. It’s more a long-term relationship restaurant than a first-date place.

Hefty portions

Mom and I had a really, really delicious meal at Canali’s Restaurant on Mariaville Road, but we both agreed that the portions were way too big. I like to eat as much as the next person, and if you put more in front of me, I’m going to eat more.

While it could be argued that quantity equals value, it doesn’t mean you should eat too much (or worse, waste it). And big restaurant portions mean a few more meals, but what if you don’t want to order a meal that you’ll be eating for the next two days? That is why I always welcome small plate choices on restaurant menus.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked Canali’s, with its friendly, professional wait staff, and chatty regulars. I like the white tablecloths, the brisk and efficient service and the feeling of being in a legacy restaurant that long ago learned to do things right.

Entrees come with soup or salad and pasta or potato and vegetable. Chicken Parmesan is a reasonable $14.99, and prices are a good value for the quality and quantity of the food they serve.

We got our drinks right away, and our order was taken a short time later. I started with soup, and Mom chose the salad. The summer vegetable soup was full of garden-fresh, neatly trimmed zucchini, carrots and tomatoes. I liked the pieces of mild, soft sausage that added some substance to the light, refreshing broth.

Mom’s salad, served on a chilled glass plate, was tossed in house Italian dressing with a kick to it, and plenty of garlic. The greens were crisp; the black olives were a bonus. When she finished, she said, “I really enjoyed that.”

We shared the assorted appetizer platter ($7.99), fried mozzarella sticks, jalapeno poppers and fried ravioli, along with a bowl of pulpy, cherry red, delicious tomato sauce. All were expertly fried, and the mozzarella cheese caught my eye because it was so white, and, like fresh mozzarella, it was soft, not chewy or stringy. Nicely done.

Brisk service

Soup and salad came out before the appetizer, which arrived before we finished the first course. We didn’t feel rushed, though, and it moved things along. The service was pleasant and efficient, but used plates sat uncleared a bit too long.

I highly recommend the chicken Marsala ($15.99). Strips of impossibly soft, sautéed white meat chicken and thinly sliced mushrooms and onions were swimming in an indulgent thick Marsala wine sauce. The fortified wine added some sweetness and a touch of smokiness to the sauce, more heavy cream than wine, so rich that I reflexively thought, “I shouldn’t eat too much of this.”

There was a side of small red potato halves and quarters, which were browned and crispy on the outside from roasting with grated cheese, salt and other seasonings. The big bowl of fresh green beans was cooked as Mom likes, which means really cooked, and I found some small chunks of garlic at the bottom of the bowl. Both sides were expertly seasoned, and tasted wonderful, but I left more of my meal than I ate.

I am not even kidding when I tell you that Mom’s order of braciola ($16.99) was gargantuan. The menu says 16 ounces, but the rolled and stuffed steak looks the size of my recipe for a 2-pound meat loaf. She had to move it to a larger plate just to have enough room to cut it, and even though she ate a few slices, the leftover piece was still larger than the 10-ounce can of Campbell’s soup that I took from my cupboard for comparison. And Mom’s a good eater.

She loved the beef, and said it was very tender. “It can be tough,” she said, but this wasn’t. She found capicola ham, egg and cheese in the filling. The side of ziti was a meal in itself, topped with that fresh, thick tomato sauce. We each had two boxes of leftovers wrapped.

Attractive desserts

Canali’s doesn’t make the desserts, but they make them look good on the dessert tray. Most desserts are big enough for two, and Mom and I shared a slice of cheesecake with strawberries ($6.50), which was creamy and smooth. Not as dense as homemade, but silky and really good. We especially liked the strawberries.

By this time the dining room was jammed with Canali devotees, who filled the room with chatter and life. These folks know about Canali’s excellent food and large portions, and probably plan for lots of leftovers. I wish they served smaller portions, with proportionately lower prices, but the food is good enough to bring me back. I’ll just go when my refrigerator is empty.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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