At Lombardo’s, winning Italian fare served in a family setting

Lombardo’s has been serving old-school Italian food in its historic charming restaurant on Madison A
Tiramisu at Lombardo's Italian Restaurant (Caroline Lee photo)
Tiramisu at Lombardo's Italian Restaurant (Caroline Lee photo)

Categories: Food

ALBANY — Lombardo’s has been serving old-school Italian food in its historic charming restaurant on Madison Avenue since 1919. In 1991, it was sold to the Mancinos, who have kept the tradition of serving fine Italian-American food with a family atmosphere.

Murals of the old country line the walls of the dining room, faceted pendant lamps dangle from the high tin ceiling. Rows of wooden booths with gently worn leather upholstery ring the room. Tables can be configured into large or small groups. It was a stylish restaurant in 1933 and is genteel now. “It’s a proper restaurant,” said my Mom, approvingly.

The Lombardos opened 121 Madison as a restaurant/speakeasy; after Prohibition they added on number 119, which had previously served as a soda fountain and Italian embassy; it’s now a bar with casual dining.

Lombardo’s Italian Restaurant

WHERE: 121 Madison Ave., Albany, 462-9180,

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.

HOW MUCH: $63.18, before tax and tip

MORE INFO: Credit cards: Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover. Children’s menu. Reservations accepted. Wheelchair accessible. Free valet parking in rear.

The only customers early on a weeknight, we got immediate and sustained attention from the staff. We were shown to a booth in the center of the room, far enough from the open door with its refreshing breeze that the traffic sounds of Madison Avenue did not drown out Dean Martin’s “Volare.”

Mom loves the menu, dominated by old favorites. Appetizers include clams casino, shrimp cocktail, snails, mozzarella in carrozza. There’s minestrone soup, and beans and greens. You can get Chicken Parm, with house salad and bread ($21.75), but try something extraordinary, like spaghetti with calamari ($21), fish baked in butter and herbs with scallops, shrimp and mushrooms ($23), shrimp rolled in prosciutto and mozzarella and baked in tomatoes ($24).

Our server suggested cold antipasto ($6.75), an inviting palette of colors and textures, well-seasoned. We shared the generous serving of neatly arranged salami, prosciutto, red peppers, provolone and vegetables. There were olives, mushrooms, roasted red pepper and eggplant, served over mixed greens. “It’s the best antipasto I’ve ever had,” said Mom, impressed.

Warm bread from Fiorello’s is served with a wonderful piquant mixture of oil and balsamic vinegar seasoned with lots of fresh garlic.

Lombardo’s gets points for fresh salads made with immaculate mesclun, Roma tomato, cucumber, carrot and black olives. Mom said the bleu cheese dressing was very good; I liked the balsamic, although next time I’d have it on the side.

Our table was cleared and tidied between courses and the server checked in frequently enough.

Mom enjoyed broiled scrod (Pesce al Forno, $20.75), a hefty fillet cooked until just a bit browned in flavorful butter, lemon and wine sauce. The side of fully cooked linguine was topped with a vibrant tomato sauce that looked and tasted fresh and bright, without being sour. We both loved the sauce.

Lombardo’s prepares their chicken Marsala ($21.50) just the way I do, if only I could cook the cutlets so well. The chicken, smothered in sliced mushrooms, wasn’t quite fork-tender. The sauce hit mainly two notes: sweet from the wine and savory from the mushrooms. I would have liked more flavors.

The entirely golden, thick slices of Italian potatoes were unique, seasoned, perhaps in batter, then quickly fried. No one flavor was predominant, but they looked crisp and appealing.

Decorative desserts

Imported desserts from a top-quality supplier are of the decorative variety, but we shared tiramisu ($6), their sole homemade dessert. Fold smooth Marscapone into whipped cream for a rich topping, and toss in some espresso and rum-soaked ladyfingers.

In fact, fill most of the oversized wine glass with the velvety stuff and you’ll have an idea of what their tiramisu is like. Neither of us much like tiramisu, but we thought Lombardo’s was terrific.

Our tab, before tax and tip came to $63.18. If you haven’t paid Lombardo’s a visit in a while, or haven’t yet been, maybe it’s time to check out the food, the old-world Italian atmosphere and attendant courteous service of this Albany institution.

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