It takes a little bit to get me to try Italian American restaurants. This time, the attraction of a band my cousin Bobby plays in (The Accents) and a special appearance by Burt Young, famous for his role in the Rocky films, were enough of a kick in the rear to make it over to a relatively new place.
But you know me, all these little things amount to a hill of beans if you can’t get good food for your money. So we got there a little before my cousin’s set and tried to get a table. They were booked, but noted that we could have a table near the bar and order food. We weren’t going anywhere, so we obliged.
One thing that attracts me to the menu is the availability of fresh pasta. It really pains me to eat at Italian restaurants and not find fresh pasta on the menu. Johnny’s offers numerous cuts all made in house.
Our server gave us some fresh Villa Italia bread and olive oil.
I ordered a couple of appetizers.
That evening there was a caprese salad special with freshly pulled mozzarella ($12).
This was absolutely lovely. The mozzarella was perfect, and they weren’t afraid to make that the main star on the dish. The tomatoes were ripe and had a good balance of acidity and sweetness. It could have used more basil in lieu of a mixture of basil and arugula, but the olive oil helped infuse the basil flavor through a lot of the dish. I would certainly order this again.
I also tried the arancini ($10), which the menu highlighted as being in the Sicilian style, stuffed with peas, ground beef, and mozzarella.
Coming from someone who takes pride in making these, Johnny’s arancini are among the better I’ve sampled in the area. The first thing I look for when I try arancini is that the rice has a restrained fluidity. When I break into it, I want it to ooze but ever so slightly. These were creamy and delicious and had a great crust. There was a little too much tomato sauce which detracted from the crispness. They were well worth the price.
For dinner, I wanted pasta, but I figured it would be worthwhile to try the chicken parmigianna and settled on pappardelle instead of ziti ($16).
When the dish was brought to the table, I got a little frustrated with the service. My silverware had been cleared, and nobody was coming around to our side of the restaurant. I went toward the main dining room to try to get something to eat my food with, and it seemed like I was a bother when I asked a different server at the server station for silverware.
I was amazed by the portion. It was quite large given the price. The pasta was excellent, but hadn’t been combined with the sauce on the heat for long enough; this manifested in a fairly disappointing puddle of water under the pasta. It was cooked nicely, and the sauce was very flavorful, so a bit more coordination in the timing would have made this perfect.
The chicken wasn’t anything special, but it was certainly adequate. The breading was a little light on seasoning. They didn’t over-sauce the chicken, and there was a good amount of mozzarella, so it was right up my alley. I certainly didn’t finish the entire portion.
Just as we were finishing up, The Accents started their set on Johnny’s newly christened patio. It took quite a while to get our check, but once we did, we were out to the patio to watch my cousin drum. (You’ve seen my cousin Bobby here before.)
Around that time, a limo pulled up in front of Proctors.
After a fairly long set of popular songs spanning the ages by The Accents, Burt made his entrance. The Accents serenaded him in with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” (which you know as the theme from Rocky). He entered the restaurant and sat by the bar.
Once The Accents took a break, I had a drink with my cousin then decided to call it a night. On our way out, I took the opportunity to meet Burt Young.
I told him I’m a huge fan of the Rocky Films, but that I was a big fan of him in Back to School and as Old Man Bacala in The Sopranos. He thanked me and posed for pictures with me and Cassie. Actually, he insisted that we get a picture of Cassie and him. That was pretty funny.
The evening was very fun. My impression of the food was very good, and I think it’s priced very reasonably. The bar was a little annoying that night, and I could see that becoming a trend, but the main dining area is removed from the bar area.