Whether you’re a visitor or a resident of New York City, if you haven’t eaten at Café Fiorello, you’ve not experienced deliciously classic New York Italian food with a twist.
Two food writer friends and I were in NYC recently for a media conference and a friend who lives in the city suggested we try Café Fiorello. Located on Broadway right across from the Lincoln Center, this Italian icon has been serving theater guests and others for 45 years. The restaurant, which features a large al fresco dining patio right on Broadway within sight of Lincoln Center, is surprisingly spacious yet, with classic dark woods and booths, has a clubby, intimate feel.
We were warmly greeted by maître d’, Carlos, who showed us to a booth. Our waiter encouraged us to try their antipasto bar, an impressive spread of vegetables like charred broccolini, mushrooms trifolalati with garlic and mushrooms, asparagus with cream and hazelnuts, and seafood such as scallops and octopus.
We opted for the three vegetable/two seafood antipasto platter ($28) as a starter. It was a riot of color and vibrant flavors—bright green broccolini cooked al dente; deep purple and slightly spicy Sicilian eggplant caponata; creamy, cheesy yellow zucchini parmigiana; vinegary green olives; sweet, briny pink shrimp and tender snow white scallops; and chewy, slightly smoky octopus with white potatoes. We found each antipasto dish delicious and uniquely flavored.
Café Fiorello Lasagne: Something Different
Our antipasto plate was so generous that we decided to order just one pasta dish to share and, again following our waiter’s advice, we ordered a house specialty, Café Fiorello Lasagne ($29). This lasagna is unlike any you’ve experienced. Instead of stacked pasta and cheeses, large sheets of house-made pasta area spread out on a large plate and covered with a tasty tomato sauce, short rib meatball, and shredded braised short rib meat, and creamy, melty cheese. When the waiter brought three plates heaped with the lasagna, I was sure he’d misunderstood our order. But no, they’d merely split a single order into three plates and these servings were huge too!
The lasagna was not only beautiful, it was incredibly delicious—tender sheets of pasta, a heavenly red sauce, juicy beef shreds, and a meatball that would make your Italian grandmother weep with joy. Alas, even one-third of this order proved to be a ton of food.
When maître d’ Carolos stopped by our table to see how we were doing, he was crestfallen when we told him we’d ordered a single pasta dish to split. “But there’s osso bucco and spaghetti carbonara,” he said plaintively. “And pizza. You must try at least a small pizza. It is so delicious with a very thin crust. How about a small pizza?”
Okay, okay, it was like having your favorite Italian grandmother insisting, “Manga, manga! (Eat, eat.)”
Delectably Crispy Pizza
We ordered a small pizza with house-made fennel sausage and caramelized onions ($20). But it wasn’t small at all. This white sauce pizza on a cracker-thin crust was as large as on over-sized dinner plate and loaded with cheese and sausage. And it was delicious—chewy sausage scented with just the right amount of fennel, sweet caramelized onions, and soft, creamy cheese all on a crisp crust.
And while our crispy, creamy pizza and our lasagna were both delicious, each of us left at least one-third of our lasagna and fully half the pizza on the table. We were stuffed. Not too stuffed to accept the plate of a half dozen double chocolate cookies Carlos slid onto our table. Manga, manga!
Real Bottom Line: Café Fiorello is a must-stop for anyone who loves great Italian food. The restaurant serves breakfast, brunch (weekends), lunch, dinner, and late-night small plates. They also do take out and delivery.
Whether or not you’re going to the theater at Lincoln Center, make your way to Café Fiorello. And bring your appetite.
Next time, I’m saving room for their classic NY cheesecake or their signature bucket of chocolate mousse with whipped cream. I promise. – Story and photos by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Café Fiorello http://www.cafefiorello.com/
1900 Broadway (between 63rd and 64th Streets)
New York City, NY