There is a sacred corner of the restaurant universe where no kale or quinoa is served. In this oasis, the servers do not recite an endless list of complex daily specials; they are not named Todd, and they are not aspiring actors waiting for their big break.
Angelo’s of Mulberry Street has been in business since 1902, and the place has not changed significantly in decades—not since the early 1980s, at least, when I first started going there. It is easily the best restaurant on the street, serving a collection of both Northern and Southern classics executed with lightness and grace. It would stand out anywhere, but is even more notable among the feeding troughs of New York’s Little Italy.
There are sidewalk tables fronting on Mulberry Street, excellent for watching the passing parade in good weather (particularly now, since the street has been turned into a pedestrian thoroughfare). The two long, narrow dining rooms culminate in a private area in the rear of the restaurant. The tablecloths are white and the table settings are sparse.
A recent visit began with a pristine octopus salad: tender chunks marinated in extra virgin olive oil and studded with garlic cloves, diced celery and several varieties of olives. You break off pieces of Angelo’s crusty country bread, dip them in the oil, and in between sips of Falanghina you reflect on how lucky you are to be alive.
Angelo’s serves the best Linguine alla Vongole in the known universe. The clams are beautifully briny and fresh, remarkably tender, served in their shell in a white wine sauce studded with garlic and placed atop a bowl of perfectly cooked pasta. A dish of angel hair with shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce is equally successful. The rest of the menu is a roll call of Italian favorites such as scungilli, spiedini alla Romana, pollo scarpariello, and dentice Livornese. Your choice may be rustic or elegant, depending on your mood.
Back to those waiters: They are white jacketed and unsmiling, and they do not introduce themselves by name or regale you with jokes. They do not relate their life stories to you, in the hope of bonding for a larger tip. What they do is serve you, and their service is attentive and unobtrusive: old-fashioned and Old World, a soothing relief in modern times.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com