Ciao down

Donattelo Filippazzi, a five-year veteran of Five-Pierino Filipazzi spreads cheer (and a little pepper) at Pierino’s. John Douglas keeps coming back to eat.

Donattelo Filippazzi, a five-year veteran of Five-Pierino Filipazzi spreads cheer (and a little pepper) at Pierino’s. John Douglas keeps coming back to eat.

Photo By David Robert

“How the heck did we never hear about this place before today?” I asked my boyfriend, Raymond, as we walked through the freezing parking lot away from the warm, hospitable environs of Pierino’s Ristorante Italiano.

Pierino’s is tucked next to Albertson’s on Keystone Avenue, where The Coffee Grinder used to be.

When Raymond and I arrived, we had the option of being seated immediately on the more informal pizzeria side of the restaurant or waiting a few minutes to be seated on the dining-room side. We decided to wait. It wasn’t five minutes before we were accommodated in a nice booth next to the window with an oil painting of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on the nearest wall.

The moment I sat, an older gentleman who seemed to be a friend or family member of Pierino unfolded the napkin in front of me and gracefully placed it on my lap.

“Apparently, the guy thinks you’re going to dribble all over yourself,” Raymond joked.

I loved the cordiality of the gesture.

“I’d come again just for that,” I said.

Our first round of food arrived quickly.

As I slurped my cup of soup ($2.95, à la carte, for the most flavorful minestrone I’ve ever had) and Raymond ate his salad (with big leaves of spinach, at $3.95 à la carte), we enjoyed watching Pierino—there was no question about who he was—greet customers. He welcomed one regular, probably an old friend, with a pat on the arms and a kiss on each cheek.

When our appetizer arrived, Raymond and I disagreed about what it looked like. I thought the stuffed mushrooms ($7.95), drenched in Alfredo sauce with a dollop of marinara on top of each one, looked like breasts. Raymond thought they looked more like eyeballs. Entertaining appearances aside, they were deliciously rich, containing a mash of red and green peppers, breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Once we’d devoured the fungi, we used the steaming, rosemary-bread rolls to sop up the remaining sauce.

We were so impressed by everything thus far that we couldn’t wait for the main course. We weren’t disappointed. I’d have curled up in bed with my gnocchi with pesto sauce ($12.95) and a glass of wine. Creamy and soothing, the pesto sauce melted down my throat as I pressed the round potato pasta pieces between my tongue and the roof of my mouth. When Raymond had a bite, he thought there was no way his calamari steak ($13.95) could be as tasty. He was wrong.

The crisp, white calamari, covered in capers, melted in my mouth as well. I’m always leery of calamari because of its squeaky, rubbery texture. When a restaurant can diminish those inherent properties of the squid, as Pierino’s did, it wholly wins me over.

We had multiple servers caring for us, and they all acted like we were their primary concern. The timing of the meal was flawless. As soon as we finished one course, new, full plates arrived.

The only thing that could have made our ideal dinner any better was if it had been accompanied by the music of the accordion I saw sitting ceremoniously at the back of the restaurant; but that’s probably an overzealous wish.