I get so tired of my own cooking. And I’m doing it almost every day. Husband Eric is working long hours at home and we can’t go out to eat now. Dining rooms are off-limits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So it’s a treat for me, and something different, when someone else makes supper.
I’d called Isopo’s on Erie Boulevard one recent afternoon and put in an order for someone else to cook: garlic knots ($4 for 8); a personal pizza with pepperoni and sausage ($8.99); chicken parm ($10.95) with side salad and Italian dressing. I added a slice of strawberry cheesecake for dessert.
The food was ready when we arrived. The restaurant, except for staff, was empty. Restaurants normally should be full of people who are enjoying themselves and staff working to make them happy. But Isopo’s, like all restaurants now, was quiet. The lights were down in the dining area and chairs were stacked on the tables. Interior walls, painted a bold red, and light-filled plate glass windows weren’t enough to make up for the missing guests.
The person who took my credit card was pleasant but looked glum. How was business? “Not good,” he replied. Two other patrons picked up food while I was there, around 5 o’clock.
Dante Isopo said later that since the shutdown of businesses due to COVID-19 crisis, the restaurant has seen its sales fall 60 percent. General Electric employees and state workers made lunch-hour business brisk. But dinnertime has picked up, Isopo said. People are trying to support them.
As we loaded the bags into the trunk, we both had the same thought. “That smells good ” said Eric.
At home, I turned the oven on low for the pizza, chicken parm and slice of garlic bread. Eric mixed a martini for cocktail hour in front of the fireplace while our dinners kept warm.
The styrofoam box of garlic knots was left open on the table where I’d photographed them so we could have one or two with our drinks. But next time I looked at them there were noticeably fewer. “How many did you eat?” I asked Eric. A lot, it turned out.
That’s because they are so good. We wholeheartedly recommend them. Ours were soft and fresh from the oven, the dough obligingly untangling into a soft stretchy interior and browned chewy exterior. They were sprinkled with cheese and garlic, and glistened from oil. These were top-quality knots.
“This is really good marinara,” said Eric. Isopo’s give you a big cup of their thick, pulpy and mild tomato sauce to go with the knots, real homemade sauce made daily.
When we sat down to eat, Eric said, “The pizza is perfect for one person,” though I might add, one who hasn’t eaten most of the garlic knots. He only made it through half. Of the pizza, he said, “The crust is stiff enough so you can pick it up. Sausage is crumbly, pepperoni standard issue.” But the cheese had a crisp coating and was soft underneath, which he said he liked. “Pretty good,” he decided.
Chicken parm is a common menu item, and its price gives you an idea of what to expect of the rest of the menu. High is a few bucks over $20, where you expect something better than average, and low is around $12, not counting weekday specials.
Isopo’s chicken parm is $10.95 and I’m happy to say that, while it’s not high-end, their chicken parm is very good.
A bargain, in fact. The large serving of chicken Parm could feed two, though they’d have to share the single slice of garlic bread. The two skinless, boneless chicken breasts are what you’d expect, capably cooked with a bit of melted cheese and sprinkling of herbs. It’s the sauce that elevates the dish.
And Isopo’s is generous with it, the way I am. Even ordinary spaghetti is so much better with this sauce. You can buy it, too. Isopo’s bottles its sauce and sells it at the Niskayuna Co-op market.
Part of the fun of takeout is unpacking the bags and boxes, and examining all the parts of the meal. But there are pitfalls to takeout — you don’t always know if you’re missing anything until you unpack it at home.
That’s what happened to us. We got the hot stuff but not the cold. The salad and cheesecake were left behind. Isopo apologized profusely and credited my account.
This is probably the most challenging time to be in the restaurant business, and locally owned places like Isopo’s Downtown Pizza make Schenectady the Italian food destination that it is. We need to patronize them during this time and hope all of our wonderful local restaurants survive.
Go get lots of garlic knots and buy some sauce, so that when we finally emerge from our houses our favorite places, like Isopo’s,, are still there.
Isopo’s Downtown Pizza
WHERE: 176 Erie Blvd., Schenectady; 518-346-1891
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday to Saturday
HOW MUCH: $25.85
MORE INFO: Credit cards: Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover. ADA compliant. Parking lot.