CLIFTON PARK — Antipasto’s, a small, vegetarian-friendly bistro buried in a tired shopping plaza on Route 146, has the power to transform.
How much power? We could smell the garlic before I even stopped the car. The aroma grew as we approached the restaurant. When we opened the door to reveal the dimly lit interior, with a long bar to the left and a small dining room on the right side, it hit us full force.
“It’s just like walking into my kitchen,” said Mom, taken a bit aback. And I have to say, it was.
We absolutely loved Antipasto’s. The food was, well, transformational, the service experienced and thoughtful, and the ambiance utterly charming. The small slot in the shopping plaza where the restaurant has been since it opened in the 1990s has been made cozy, friendly, charming. Not fancy.
“I’m in New Jersey, Long Island, Brooklyn,” said Mom, unable to decide between metropolitan locations. There are, in our memories, unassuming-looking excellent restaurants tucked into shopping centers alongside a Waldbaum’s or King Kullen supermarket downstate that were wonderful, just like this. Well, almost. Those places were Italian, not vegetarian, like Antipasto’s.
Antipasto’s recognizes that there are so many wonderful things to eat besides meat and puts them forward.
Antipasto’s Vegetarian Bistro & Wine Bar
WHERE: 1028 Route 146, Clifton Park, 383-1209, www.antipastos.com
WHEN: 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
HOW MUCH: $68, with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Cash or local check with phone number only. Accommodations made for children’s meals. Lots of parking. Reservations accepted. Wine and beer only.
We were greeted immediately and led to a comfortable table. The server brought us menus and wine lists and a handwritten card of the day’s specials. Antipasto’s presents itself as a wine and beer establishment, and the server matched us each with a glass of exactly what we wanted before we even picked up the wine list. There are 50 wines available by the glass, and 40 beers and ales.
Great date place
Antipasto’s is date-cozy. The lighted strings of red and green bunches of grapes and the real candles on the table are the brightest things in the place. There’s one TV but we approved of it because we couldn’t hear it and it’s at the far end of the bar.
The room is bisected by an attractive painted glass and wood divider. The tables are glass-topped over white linen and the cloth napkins are green, which match the checkerboard linoleum floor. There’s wood wainscoting with biscuit-painted walls above. The music is soft and pleasant.
“We just made marinara sauce,” said the server, as if we couldn’t tell. We both had to have it. I ordered pasta with meatballs (one of the few non-vegetarian items on the menu, for $17.95) and Mom had a small three-cheese pizza with the sauce ($13.95). We were both delighted with our food.
We got hot sliced Bella Napoli Italian bread and a dish of oil and balsamic vinegar with fresh chopped basil and parsley and lots of garlic. “I could just eat the bread — that and a glass of wine,” said Mom, as we scattered crisp crust crumbs all over the table. It was that good.
Check out the menu online and you’ll see there are appetizers like Portobello Parmesan, a good selection of salads, a pasta section, entrees and pizza. There are meatless entrees like eggplant Parm and pesto, but you can also get veggie chicken or beef. There’s no seafood on the menu.
“I could have picked any one of these salads,” said Mom, who ordered the Grace Slick ($11.95). It has baby spinach along with lots of red onion, dried apricots, grapes and shredded cheddar cheese in a tangerine vinaigrette, and it was pronounced outstanding. Everything, including the grapes, was sliced into small pieces.
Worth the price
The prices are in line with the quality of the food, which is to say, not cheap. A small house salad is $5.95, but what a fine salad it is: lettuce and red ripe tomato with chick peas, sliced carrot, feta cheese, and a house balsamic vinaigrette served in a small metal cup on the side. The server grated lots and lots of Parmesan over it, just like I do at home.
OK, so we skipped the tofu and the chicken and sausage substitute. I had pasta with real meatballs at a vegetarian restaurant and it was worth it. The fettuccine was cooked through, the way I like it, the long slender pasta noodles slipping and sliding around in the shallow broad white bowl, mingling with that freshly made, pulpy sauce.
I savored a tender, delicious meatball, slicing it into small pieces to stretch out the flavor. Another generous dose of grated Parmesan finished off the dish. I ate one meatball but barely made a dent in the pasta. It tasted fantastic.
The three-cheese pizza with marinara sauce was an event, said Mom, not a pizza. As good as my meal was, I wanted her pizza more. The crust was thick, but delicate and crispy. Mom lifted the edge of a slice to show me the nicely browned bottom crust and raised an eyebrow meaningfully, looking for agreement. I agreed. The flavors of the different cheeses melted together in a dizzying, fattening, salty, entrancing, wonderful layer of goodness.
Their small pizza is generously topped, easily enough for two. Mom only managed to eat a quarter of it. She offered to give me the leftovers, but I didn’t dare bring them into my house. Three-cheese pizza at Antipasto’s is at the top of my list of things you should only eat on your birthday.
All this wonderful food was served by a charming man in a long apron who accommodated our every need and anticipated our wants, just when we wanted them. He cleaned the crumbs from the table at the end of the meal, which impressed Mom no end. The tab for our meal, with two glasses of wine, tax and a very large tip, came to $68.
Antipasto’s doesn’t take credit cards. It’s cash or local check only.
How can words describe the food at Antipasto’s? It comes down to this: It made us very happy.