Tuesday, March 06, 2007

March Matchups: Dominick's vs. Spoto's

"Ladies and gentleman we have just been notified that The Steiner Brothers have now entered the building. More on that later." This is a matchup of two of my favorite restaurants. In the corner to my right...Dominick's Restaurant...while just entering the ring...Spoto's Restaurant!

Dominick's vs. Spoto's

Dominick's is a pretty unique and well-known locale. The walls are adorned with pictures of celebrities who have dined at the eatery on Arthur Avenue, located in the Belmont Section of the Bronx - the birthplace of Dion and the Belmonts. Politicians like to drop in for food and flash bulbs on Columbus Day, similarly to when they go to Manhattan's McSorley's on St. Patrick's Day and enjoy a Guinness draft. I first was taken to Dominick's some time in high school and since then have introduced many friends to this gem located minutes from the Pelham Parkway.

Here's what to expect: There's no menu. What, no menu? Yep, the waiter comes over and tells you what they have and that's that. Sure, you can order something he doesn't mention. But expect to receive a look that says,"So the food I just talked about isn't good enough for you." I can't remember ever going that route, but was with someone who did, and saw the impact on "the check." The waiter starts you off with a salad to split, while you are mulling over what you want. I like to start with either calamari or muscles, preferably the calamari. Why? Well, unlike most places where the calamari is crispy, greasy, and rubbery; Dominick's calamari is much kinder to eat and gentler on the stomach, due to the fact that they boil their calamari instead of frying it.

For the main course you really can't go wrong. I usually make it a point to try something different each time. What stands out to me? Well, I shared with three friends once, the best dish of baked ziti I've ever had. Their eggplant is dynamite as well.

Generally speaking, Dominick's food is really good. Although I feel - as do a couple of friends - that they have slipped a little in the past couple of years. Their bread is either awesome or hard as a rock. You also sit at long tables with "other people," so if you want to have a private conversation, Dominick's is not the place.

Which leads me to the check. There is none. At the end of your meal the waiter tells you what you owe. The problem with this is that it depends on the waiter and his mood as to how much you'll spend. I've paid practically nothing and other times I've handed over a king's ransom. The night my friend ordered something that was not initially mentioned by the waiter, I thought we'd be washing dishes. The parking can be dicey as well. Get there between 4:30 and 6:00 and you're fine. After that forget it! You definitely don't want to go there on a Saturday unless you like long waits and crowded, noisy restaurants. Yankees' Opening Day is also a no-no. But I'm afraid I am being too critical. Dominick's otherwise gets a B+ from me and is definitely worth the experience.

After dinner you can make a left out of the restaurant and walk two blocks to find a couple of really good pastry shops. One in particular - which I forget the name of - is on the corner of 187 Street and is really, really good. Don't forget to take the canolis!

Spoto's Restaurant is a place I was introduced to in 2002 by a buddy from the New York Guard. We were discussing restaurants and I mentioned Dominick's and Arthur Avenue. He swore by Spoto's and East Tremont Avenue, so I figured I'd give it a try. I was really blown away! To start, the atmosphere is pretty nice; the noise level is reasonable so that you don't have to shout; the place is very clean; and the staff is very professional. Parking is never a problem as there is a huge lot next door and a couple of neighboring residential side streets almost always have open spaces.

Here what I like to eat at Spoto's: Start off and have a plate of stuffed mushrooms and then order one of their chicken dishes with a side of spaghetti. Oh yeah, the bread is always fresh out of the oven and I love to dip it into the olive oil they bring you. I next go with the chicken - Marsala or Francaise- which is always tender. The spaghetti is good and the red sauce tastes as if it is homemade.

Yes, there's a menu and your bill is itemized! So no worries about the tempestuousity of your waiter. Hey, they even bring out a dessert menu.

The portions are big so you might not want dessert. I can't eat like when I was 21, so the last couple of times at Spoto's I've passed on dessert. But the cheesecake is most certainly a home run.

My experiences at Spoto's have always been positive. It is easy-on and easy-off from the Bruckner Expressway to East Tremont Avenue. On the other hand, Dominicks is a great place to go to with "the guys." I remember going there with six friends after the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium. We waited a long time but had our own table which was cool. If you are looking for the whole "bottle of red, bottle of white" experience, Dominick's isn't it. Spoto's serves both purposes. If you want to go with a few friends it's fine, or if you would like to impress a date it can also win you some points. Of course, side two of Led Zeppelin Four (also known as ZOSO) never hurts in that department.

So the winner is....Spoto's. Another close one, but I give the gang up on East Tremont Avenue the duke. Incidentally, up the block is Mario's Restaurant. That's where - legend has it - the scene was filmed where Michael Corleone kills the police captain and Virgil Sollozzo in The Godfather, at the fictitious "Louies."

Happy Eating!

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