Frank Lloyd Wright meets Fred Flintstone on Broadway here; Prairie School-style broad, overhanging eaves and flat roofs intersect with mammoth boulders to make up the monumental, horizontal mid-century building. Once home to the Trade Winds restaurant, the New York Times in 1974 called it “the best food in town.”
Lamb chops were $7.50 and the Trade Winds was a destination. “Somewhere you’d go after a Sunday drive,” said Mary. It still feels like you’re somewhere when you’re there.
Panza’s restaurant has the chops to pull off this audacious building. Its restaurant on Saratoga Lake was a destination, with a robust and respectable history going back five generations. Tony and Mike Panza moved the restaurant to Broadway in May of 2019. They run the family business today.
The dark entryway isn’t a main feature of the building, but reveals multiple levels, a bubbling pond and more massive stone. Colored spotlights are used to effect throughout the restaurant; the unexpected and exotic pink and turquoise highlights and softens the heavy interior. A short set of stairs leads to the dining room to the left, on the right is a grotto-like bar room with fireplace, behind there is a snug wine cellar often reserved for romantic dinners.
The main dining room, this night reduced to half by heavy curtains, is mostly stone and glass with green plants reaching up to the wood paneled ceiling. It has an underwater feel, a skeleton and bubbling treasure chest wouldn’t be out of place. In a good way.
Another flight of stairs goes to a lounge; this night was music trivia, which attracted a small crowd. More on that later.
“They get an A plus for heat,” observed Mary, as we were seated by a row of windows overlooking the cantilevered walkway roof and the port cochère. Though it was early, the tables were in place for the evening’s reservations, dressed with crisp white linens and neatly set.
Panza’s menu is American-style Italian, you can probably find your favorite dish on their menu. They have chicken and veal prepared various Italian ways and a selection of interesting pasta dishes and a few classics like Long Island duckling. It’s a fine dining restaurant but prices feel comfortable. Chicken Parm, $23, comes with a side of pasta and their freshly baked bread, which is fantastic.
Mary is very particular about fried calamari ($14) and Panza’s version, served with fra diavolo sauce, she said, was excellent. The pieces were tender as could be, coated in a very light batter. “They melt in your mouth,” she said, something you don’t often hear about calamari. “They cool down and they’re still good,” she observed. The server had no trouble subbing out the spicy fra diavolo for marinara at her request.
“The staff is seasoned,” Mary said, looking around at the neatly dressed, efficient servers. You are in good hands here, the default mode at Panza’s seems to be: running smoothly.
The Rat Pack music fits right in with the decor, which manages to hold onto the midcentury vibe, but the sound checks, entertainment and music trivia in the lounge carried over into the dining room, which ended up in cacophony. That’s a problem inherent in open-plan design (also favored by FLLW).
We ordered our wine blind, as we hadn’t seen a list, and ended up with good choices, chilly, citrusy Echo Bay New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($9) for me, and fragrant, fruity Coppola Director’s Cut Cabernet ($12) for Mary.
I saw the wine list later, which includes a lot of familiar names and high-ticket popular restaurant names. Interestingly, vintages aren’t listed; if you’re spending over $50 on a wine, the vintage is important. Good choices are the mid-level Italian reds in the $45 to $70 range, also some higher end Chardonnays are very good wines.
I wanted to eat the attractive Insalata Mista, mixed salad ($5), right away, its varicolored small tomato slices and assortment of greens were so visually appealing. Their house Italian dressing was a little tame for me, as my own house version adds garlic and Parmesan. But it’s a good, fresh, generous-sized salad.
The dining room was already mostly full; nearby a medium-sized boy sipping a grenadine-colored beverage was clearly delighted when the smiling server brought his dry ice-cooled shrimp cocktail that trailed white smoky vapor over the table.
Don’t tell anyone, but elegant chicken Milanese ($26) is really fried chicken at heart. It’s a dressed up, elegant but snooty cousin and a guilty pleasure. Panza’s uses seasoned panko for maximum crunch and tops it with a zesty lemon beurre blanc sauce whose flavor cuts through the crisp coating.
Panza’s pulls off an evenly browned, crunchy coating that adheres to the tender meat up to and including leftovers. I loved it.
The chicken is flattened (thank you) and topped with a neatly formed heap of juvenile arugula and lively purple micro greens. Here the sauce works as a dressing, with lemon for acid and butter for oil. The lemon wedge garnish and transparent slices of yellow pepper seem to underline the color. A pretty plate and a delicious dish.
Mary’s diver scallops ($32) were jumbo-sized, well browned on both sides and served over risotto and green peas, a dollop of bacon jam in the center. She’s fussy about how they are cooked, and Panza’s were excellent, she said, though cooked a bit too long. The risotto was just creamy enough with a little al dente bite to remind you that you were eating risotto. The peas added a sweet, spring-like note.
“Are there any homemade desserts?” I asked. “They’re all homemade,” came the reply, which tells you everything you need to know about Panza’s. Mary and I shared “real spumoni” ($8) as she called it, with layers of vanilla, chocolate, cherry and pistachio nut ice cream, some made in-house. “No one does real spumoni anymore,” said Mary, who commented favorably on the toasted sliced almonds and frozen whipped cream topping. It looked and tasted outstanding.
You also don’t often see sticky toffee pudding ($8) outside London or the Christmas holidays, so I had a serving packed up for husband Eric who described the flavor as like gingerbread, the texture a more dense. It looked like there was too much Crème Anglaise, but it wasn’t. “Mmm, that was good,” he said.
We enjoyed our meal, the atmosphere and the service and left with carefully wrapped leftovers and a good feeling about the place.
The tab for dinner, with two glasses of wine, tax and tip came to $141.90, not an unreasonable price for a very good meal in a pleasant setting.
Panza’s Restaurant remains a destination, and has been successfully moved to Broadway, into a building that feels consequential, like you’re someplace special. It’s a good fit.
WHERE: 129 South Broadway, Saratoga Springs, (518) 584-6882, panzasrestaurant.com
WHEN: 5 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Tuesday. Summer hours start in April, open 7 days.
HOW MUCH: $121.98 for food with tax and two glasses of wine
MORE INFO: Credit cards Master Card, Visa, American Express, Discover Children’s menu. Parking lot. ADA compliant; they a lift and there are no steps going in.