Anyone who has lived around here for more than 20 years remembers the Joe Collins restaurant on South Broadway in Saratoga Springs.
Joe gave the restaurant his name when he took over his father’s place, the Chili Bowl, in 1963, and for more than 30 years it was a Saratoga institution, a bar and dinner hangout for locals and racetrack fans.
Just after the new century rolled around, Joe Collins was replaced by Morrissey’s, which was known for its brick oven. Then came The Big Apple Restaurant and Lounge, which only lasted a short time before closing in 2009.
Now we’ve got Bravo!, a place that can’t help attracting attention because its owners are Lauren and Guiseppe Grisio, the same folks who run Mama Mia’s, one of the most popular Italian restaurants in town.
WHERE: 3246 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs. 583-3100, Facebook
WHEN: Lunch, 12-3 p.m. Wed.-Sat.; dinner, 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Wed.-Sun.
HOW MUCH: $72.76 not including tip and a glass of wine
MORE INFO: Visa, American Express, MasterCard. Parking lot. Takes phone reservations.
Bravo!, which opened in July and added a lunch menu last month, is bigger and more upscale than the family-friendly Mama Mia’s, and it specializes in steak and seafood as well as Italian.
“It’s a cigar and martini crowd,” Hubby said, looking around the spacious dining room on a recent Saturday night.
As we took our seats, I admired the cream-colored cloth napkins that poked out of the water glasses like tulips. I also liked that we could pour our own water from a large attractive bottle that was posted on the cloth-covered table.
As we checked out the menu, some nibbles appeared. A simple tapenade of kalamata olives was irresistibly tangy but cried out for a crusty cracker instead of the very soft bread that was served.
For an appetizer, we picked Baked Clams Oreganata, $16, a Giuseppe recipe that’s made in the oven. It’s an outstanding dish, made for sharing.
Presented right from the oven in their saute pan, a dozen extremely tender littlenecks with a toasty crumb filling nuzzled a hill of fresh baby spinach and a lemon wedge. At the bottom of the pan, the not-too-garlicky sauce could be ladled onto the clams with a big spoon. I actually scooped up the buttery liquid as if the clam were a tortilla chip, and Hubby swiped the pan with some bread.
The other shining moment of the evening was my pasta entree: Pork Belly with Eggplant and Mushrooms on Pappardelle, $18.
The extra-long ribbons of homemade pasta were silky-rich and tossed in a light, fresh tomato sauce with bite-sized pieces of eggplant and mushroom and topped with a beautifully charred chunk of pork.
Now I understand why it’s called pappardelle, from the verb “pappare,” which means “to gobble up.”
Roasted prime rib
Hubby ordered the Roasted Prime Rib, $24, served au jus with horseradish sour cream. “It’s cooked perfectly. The portion is generous,” he said.
While the meat and condiment got an A+ rating, the mashed potatoes and zucchini on the side were acceptable but nothing special. The house salads, which come with the entrees, were a bit blah, too.
If you prefer seafood, note that Bravo! not only serves whole lobster but two Mediterranean specialties: Orata al Cartoccio, a mix of shellfish baked in parchment with a light red sauce, and grilled branzino.
Throughout the evening, the service was exceptional.
Heather, our terrific server, kept my cup filled with freshly brewed decaf, $2, and apologized when we had to wait for our entrees.
The brick ovens
And a note about brick ovens. They seem to turning up all over town, and they really add atmosphere, so we were happy to see that Bravo! is making pizza and other dishes in the oven. But we missed not seeing the open oven in the dining room, which we remembered from Morrissey’s.
Before we departed, I asked about the desserts, thinking perhaps they were made at Mama Mia’s, which has its own bakery and cafe adjoining the restaurant.
“No, the chef makes them here,” said Heather.
My cannoli, a pair of pastries drizzled with chocolate, was $8.
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.