Is bigger better? At Augie’s in Ballston Spa, the answer is a resounding YES!
Billed as a “family restaurant,” the mere mention of Augie’s might conjure up tables of rambunctious kids slurping spaghetti and sauce.
But this was not the scene at all when we arrived early for dinner on a recent Monday evening. We were greeted, seated and handed menus. Dino (Martin) crooned softly from a hidden speaker. The mustard walls were littered with baseball photos and a high shelf held a couple dozen figurines of elephants. Only a few of the dozen-plus tables were occupied.
Menu prices initially surprised me. Appetizers for $14? Pasta dishes for $25? Since neither Johnny Pogo nor I had dined previously at Augie’s, helpful server Rick (who teams with the gracious Elizabeth, who wrote their names on the paper-covered table) explained the Augie’s “schtick.”
We had already noticed that food was being served in rustic-looking, patterned yellow, blue and white bowls or on platters, large enough to serve three or four adults.
Two couples might order two entrees, a salad and a side, and leave the restaurant sated and with enough food to take home for a couple more meals.
Without summer’s hanging baskets of bountiful blossoms, Augie’s looks like a former A&P painted brown. No surprise here, because if one travels back in time, the building was indeed an A&P.
The former grocery store has been transformed into a cozy restaurant of a dozen or so red-checkered-clothed tables with a closed-off banquet room on the left. A small bar ran along the forward portion of the right wall and the open kitchen was situated across the rear in a design that appeared to be compact but not crowded.
The menu was also compact, but loaded with familiar items dressed in enticing details. Johnny Pogo immediately chose the traditional Italian first course, a cold antipasto ($14.95) with cured meats, cheeses and vegetables. At first, the price seemed a little steep — until we realized the portion would serve at least four. Accompanied by the basket of Rock House Bakery’s rustic bread we were served, the antipasto would have been a more than adequate dinner for the two of us.
But there was no going back. My salad special with thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and strings of caramelized onions ($14.95) was sprinkled with baby cumulus clouds of goat cheese, black cured olives and small pepperoncini.
The light oil/vinegar-based dressing highlighted the individual flavors of the ingredients while binding them together as a whole, which was more than the sum of its parts.
There was enough to take home for a stir-fry as well as a cold salad. Although I did not think of it at the time, I’m guessing an addition of cold shrimp or hard-cooked eggs would boost the Brussels sprouts salad to a complete meal.
Dinnermate John ordered the seafood pasta ($44.95), a special that evening. The price was pretty special, too, until one realized the huge bowl of pappardelle would again serve four people. Shrimp, scallops, generous chunks of lobster and mushrooms tossed in a mild cream sauce highlighted al dente pasta.
John’s only complaint: The entrée was “incredibly rich.” I agreed. Reheated the next day, the white sauce erupted with butter.
At the opposite end of the pasta spectrum was my pasta puttanesca for a reasonable $23.95.
A light marinara dotted with kalamata olives, garlic and capers was blended with anchovies, combined with linguini and topped with confetti-like snipped fresh basil leaves.
What always amazes me about this dish is that the strong flavors like that of fresh garlic, basil, black olives, capers and anchovies can be melted into a multifaceted yet unified and tantalizing blend.
Happily full, we still chose to delve into something sweet to end our seemingly endless food fest. Carrot cake ($6.95), of course! Nutritious, so it must be acceptable. Sharing it would render it even less sinful.
Served with superfluous whipped cream and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, the cake was moist and dense. The frosting solo would have been just as pleasing spread on a pumpernickel bagel. Sipped with a good cup of coffee and a tiny hot cup of crema-topped espresso, the cake was more than adequate.
Augie’s specials of the day are designed and prepared by owner Augie Vitiello.
There are a number of stories explaining the origin of pasta puttanesca (“Lady of the Night Pasta”).
For more on the story and directions on how to prepare the dish, go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=89AXCN06pBE&feature=youtu.be.
Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant
WHERE: 17 Low St., Ballston Spa, NY 12020; 518-884-8600; www.augiesrestaurant.com/
WHEN: Sunday-Monday, Wednesday-Thursday 4-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 4-10 p.m., closed Tuesday
HOW MUCH: $120.60 without
tax and tip (to feed four people — $60 would be a more realistic tab for two)
MORE INFO: Dinner specials, full bar, large lot parking, major credit cards accepted, noise level permits conversation, accessible, takeout, reservations encouraged, private parties for up to 55 guests, gift certificates.