Cornells in Little Italy
Address: 39 North Jay St., Schenectady
Owners: Jack and Connie Hume, George Ryon
Chef: Zach Davis
Quote: “A taste of Italy in Schenectady, N.Y. You don’t need a passport to enjoy a luxurious night in Italy. Cornells sets the mood with a tasteful Tuscan color palette and photos of Italy’s iconic regions.”
Contact information: (518) 370-3825 , cornellsrestaurant.com
SCHENECTADY — George Ryon and Jack and Connie Hume love the culinary creations at Cornells in Little Italy.
They are Italian-style classics—such as the house-made cavatelli served with meatballs, sausage or both. The hot antipasto for two is full of flavors, with eggplant, shrimp, clams, mushrooms, red and green peppers and homemade marinara sauce all in the mix.
Chicken and veal marsala are on the menu. All-time favorites such as seared sea scallops, New York strip steaks and veal, chicken and eggplant parmigiana have places on the roster.
Chef Zach Davis has worked in the Cornells kitchen for nearly 15 years and knows how to cook the restaurant’s style. “He oversees a talented kitchen that honors these traditional dishes,” Connie Hume said.
The Humes and Ryon, became owners of the longtime Schenectady restaurant in 2011, and hope visitors will sample dishes often hard to find in other restaurants: chicken livers, Brussels sprouts and Utica greens.
Veteran Schenectady diners will remember Cornells’ early years on Van Vranken Avenue. The business moved to Jay Street—and the “Little Italy” section that also includes Civitello’s Italian pastry shop, Perreca’s bakery and the restaurant MORE Perreca’s—in 2002.
The Humes and Ryon decided to invest because they always liked what they saw and tasted at Cornells. Lobster ravioli, linguini with clams, braciole, baked cod and clams casino are also on the dinner list.
“It was our favorite restaurant,” said Jack Hume, the former longtime editor and publisher of The Daily Gazette.
“I’m interested in food,” he added. “I’ve always been interested in how you make something as good as whatever it is I’m eating.”
Connie Hume said many of the recipes go back to the early days of Cornells, from the 1940s. Traditional dishes, the owners believe, keep people coming into Cornells for seats inside the front room near the bar, inside the large dining room and—weather permitting—outside on the terrace.
A banquet room seats about 65. For larger gatherings, the entire restaurant is available for rental. Capacity is 201.
“I think they come in here knowing there will be warm environment, warm welcome and consistently good food,” Connie Hume said.
Like other restaurants, Cornells maintains a presence on social media. The restaurant runs a rewards program—customers receive points for dollars spent—and will soon begin a series of wine-pairing dinners. Tastings, featuring bourbons and scotches, and cooking lessons run by Cornells culinary experts are also in the plans.
Family dinners to go are another option.
Connie Hume believes that in addition to excellent food, people also are looking for excellent dining experiences.
“This is a place where you can have a conversation,” she said. “The ambiance is calming, not loud. For people who want to have a nice dinner and be able to have a conversation, it’s comfortable.”
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There have been challenges. Traveling to North Jay Street is a little harder than it used to be.
“We really lost a lot when they dead-ended Jay Street,” Connie Hume said.
North Jay used to be accessible from upper Erie Boulevard, near the current site of the traffic rotary that connects Erie to Rush and Nott streets.
“It makes us harder to find,” Connie added. “I call it the little Boston—a lot of one-ways to get here.”
The ownership team believes the trip to Cornells is worth it, from any direction. Diners enjoy the experience.
“Occasionally people dine with us who we haven’t seen in years and we have that opportunity to reconnect with them,” Connie Hume said. “It means a lot.”