At The Table: Sleek new Ritz on Union dishes up delicious Italian

A restaurant dining room with dish in foreground

The Ritz is open and bright with a pale color scheme, making the whole place seem sleek and contemporary. Inset: Baked haddock with mashed potatoes and mixed vegetables.

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The longtime, well-loved Home Style pizza and catering business on upper Union Street closed its restaurant during the pandemic, offering only food to go and catering.

Renovations began in 2020. They reopened this past January as The Ritz on Union by Home Style Caterers.

The business was started by Anthony and Ida Bennice and Andre and Rina Adonnino; the current owners are their sons and nephews. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the business.

At one time the family owned the Ritz Terrace on Van Vranken Avenue, and the new name provides a historic and emotional tie. The Ritz on Union is a bit more upscale than the old place, but they still have the same pizza and catering you love.

I was meeting Patrice for dinner. She called from her car. “Where is it in relation to Home Style pizza?” she asked, surely not the first. The old signage is still in place.

You wouldn’t recognize it inside — at least Patrice didn’t. She’d been to Home Style and had good things to say. Like, “They have really great pizza,” and, after a beat, “really good everything.”

The patio is gone and the layout is open and bright, contemporary. The pale color scheme is sleek. Lots of windows and hard surfaces make it a bit noisy. The bar, toward the back on the right, was mostly occupied. Everything looks new, in a good way.

A server brought water glasses and I watched the dining room steadily fill. Folks were curious, lured by the prix fixe menu or missing the pizza. Patrice showed up a few minutes later.

We examined the menus in between catching up on news. The pizza is six-cut Neapolitan and 12-cut Sicilian. You can still get chicken wings and Italian entrees. Now there’s a charcuterie board ($22) and short-rib sliders ($19), calamari and shrimp ($19), and arancini ($15) for appetizers.

The soups are chicken pastina, pasta fagioli and a selection that changes daily. Antipasti salad ($16) joins an iceberg wedge with blue cheese ($15).

You can still get classic parmesan meals: chicken, eggplant and meatball ($23). Now there’s salmon risotto ($35) and veal osso bucco ($39). Add a side of crispy Brussels sprouts ($6).

The lunch menu has salads, sandwiches and burgers, a steam table with rotating selections, and strombolis and calzones. I wish there were garlic knots ($7) at dinner, where we ordered off the regular menu, not the one for Restaurant Week.

It took a while for someone to take our order, but we were soon attended to, and had some excellent homemade rolls with herbed butter. They were airy and chewy, recently made.

Patrice started with a chicken pastina soup ($5), a lovely, hearty, homemade cup with carrots, celery and onion. An especially enticing piece of white-meat chicken was visible near the top between torn bits of escarole.

“This soup is really good by the way,” she reported, in between telling me everything that happened since we last met. “It’s nicely seasoned, really good.”

I enjoyed a traditional tossed salad ($10) of lettuce surrounded by neatly sliced grape tomatoes and cucumbers. There were 17 black olives, a bit more than I require.

We are not fans; I felt bad they went uneaten. The homemade vinaigrette was creamy, and tangy from balsamic vinegar.

After studying the menu later, I realized a side salad ($5) would have been a better choice.

By this time The Ritz was full. We had a roomy spot near the bar, though it was starting to feel like Siberia. We settled in to wait for our meals.

It was Restaurant Week and the staff was hustling. I was beginning to worry it was too soon to visit. But this can happen any time, to any restaurant.

It just takes one person to call in sick. Unfortunately, it’s happened to me more lately, as businesses struggle to maintain staff.

It took a long time to get our meals, but they were delicious. Meantime, I saw beautiful 12-cut Sicilian pizzas delivered and heard the bartender vigorously shaking drinks. The place was hopping.

Patrice’s Italian family served spaghetti two times a week. “I’m a sauce snob,” she admitted. And, after a few bites, she decided, “I love the sauce and the delicious tomato chunks.” Points to The Ritz.

She’d ordered the chicken parmesan ($23) dinner, which turned out to be a generous-sized cutlet and pile of well-sauced ziti.

The chicken looked very appealing, fried and browned just right. I liked the perfectly melted mozzarella that slid down the sides.

“It’s one of the best I’ve had,” reported Patrice. “The chicken was tender and perfectly done.” The sauce was delicious and generous. The chicken seemed to be less fried than usual, she added.

I had the lemon herb panko baked haddock ($29), which was beautifully presented. The fish fillet was laid over a bed of sautéed vegetables, cosied up to the prettiest swirl of piped mashed potatoes I’ve seen. It made a lovely picture.

I flicked a flake of fish with my fork and was hooked at the first bite. The seasoned panko was browned, a bit crunchy and full of flavor. I noticed the slightest fishy smell when it arrived, but the flavor was gentle and mild.

The menu reads, “roasted cherry tomatoes and market vegetables,” and this night it was red onion, peppers in four colors, green squash and mushrooms, all sautéed and browned in places. Some of the vegetables were sliced small enough to eat as-is, but most pieces were larger. Some pepper slices were still crunchy and others were soft, but they all tasted good.

The lemon beurre blanc sauce taken with the fish and crispy seasoned panko was heavenly. It made everything better, and I could have eaten more.

We ordered a slice of cheesecake ($10) but it was getting late, so I asked the server if I could have it wrapped. She brought us boxes for our leftovers, and more points to The Ritz for good, reusable containers.

Husband Eric and I shared the cheesecake. It was super-creamy and smooth, and had that tang underlying the vanilla that I always look for in cheesecake. The minimal crust had a little spice, not too much. It was excellent.

Patrice said later that the leftover chicken parm was, “perfect, still moist and flavorful.”

The tab for our meal came to $98.16, with tax and tip. We enjoyed our food and the ambience.

The service was spotty on this chaotic night, but we both look forward to going back another time when it’s not so busy.

Caroline Lee is a freelance writer who lives in Troy. Reach her at [email protected]. Her restaurant reviews appear every other Sunday.

The Ritz on Union

WHERE: 1720 Union St., Schenectady; (518) 372-7270;
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
HOW MUCH: $98.16, with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Parking lot. ADA compliant. Children’s menu. Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. Apple Pay.

Categories: Food, Life and Arts

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