AMSTERDAM — For 46 years, Parillo's Armory Grill has been one of the go-to places for authentic Italian food, drawing people from the city of Amsterdam and beyond.
The establishment at 67 Bridge St. on the city's South Side has been in the Parillo family the entire time, even as businesses around it have come and gone: that's the innate popularity of classics like spaghetti and meatballs, lasagna, and chicken parmigiana, done right.
"My passion is the Armory Grill," said Jackie Altieri Parillo, who co-owners the 125-seat mainstay with her husband, Ralph. "The business has been good to everybody."
Located in the shadow of the Amsterdam Armory—now the Amsterdam Castle, a boutique hotel—the restaurant occupies a 19th-century two-story that was once the Suits Hotel. Ralph and his brother Paul, while in their 20s, bought the building and opened the Armory Grill in 1973. It was a pretty typical neighborhood bar.
Then one day their dad, also named Ralph, stopped in. At the time, the World War II veteran was working as a pharmacist—but he knew a thing or two about cooking.
"My husband came in and there were a lot of guys there, and he said he'd go out to the kitchen and make some spaghetti and meatballs, and afterward they said, 'That was really good,'" recalled the boys' mother and Ralph's widow, Rita Parillo. "It snowballed from there. He quit his job as a pharmacist and really got into it."
At age 94, Rita Parillo no longer stands at the hostess station, but she's a frequent guest. She's a people person, and admits that even though she loves to cook, she herself was no good in a commercial kitchen. But she had her special role.
"I was good at keeping my children in the kitchen calm. It can get hectic," she said.
The senior Ralph Parillo died in 2016, at age 97. "He's still here, his spirit," said Jackie Parillo.
The Parillo name is prominent on the South Side. Three of Ralph and Rita's seven children went on to own local restaurants: Joseph had LaCucina, located on the Center Street side of the Armory Grill; Paul Parillo was a partner in the Armory Grill until being elected Amsterdam's mayor in 1988. Today, Paul has L'ultimo, farther down Bridge Street, which mostly is open for special events.
Over the years, the restaurant—with its classic and classy decor—has hosted plenty of local and state politicians, including current Mayor Michael Villa and Congressman Paul Tonko, a city native who still calls Amsterdam home. These days, the Amsterdam Castle regularly sends dinner guests down the hill, an easy walk.
Customers have also included actors, NBC news staff following last year's Schoharie limousine crash, and Iron Eyes Cody, the Italian-American actor famous for playing Native American roles in Hollywood. The Parillo's hosted Sawyer Fredericks viewing parties when he was on "The Voice" in 2015, and he's eaten there.
In the last decade, the Parillos added pub fare like chicken wings, pizza and burgers, to keep up with trends. But with the owners close to retirement, Jackie Parillo said they're simplying the menu and going back to the basics the family learned when the restaurant was new. "You took one dish, and you perfected it," Jackie Parillo said.
One of the signature dishes is vodka rigatoni, something they began offering in the early 1980s, "though now everyone has it," Parillo said.
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Jackie grew up around another Amsterdam restaurant. Her dad, Richard Alterieri, ran the Sleepy Dutchman just off the city's Thruway exit. But she says it was her father-in-law who taught her to cook. Ralph and Jackie run the kitchen, offering a homemade meal from bread right through dessert.
Ralph and Jackie's daughters, Theresa Koons and Gina O'Brien, grew up in the restaurant and hostessed and worked in the kitchen for many years, but don't plan to take over ownership, leaving the restaurant's future uncertain.
"We hope we can find a nice loving family that wants it," Jackie said.