Steady, stable and strong
Overall rating on a scale of 1-10
Service 10 Food 10 Ambiance 9 Price – $$$
In the definition of a “long and successful life”, many might include good family, good friends and good food as key elements of “longevity”. As such, Cornell’s Restaurant at 39 North Jay Street in the lower Union Street section of Schenectady, is the thriving and working definition of the word.
Cornell’s was first established on Van Vranken Avenue in Schenectady by Nicholas and Pasqualina Cornell in 1943 and enjoyed success there until its sale in 1977 (a 34-year run). Twenty years later, the popular restaurant was purchased and re-opened by the family at the same site and again enjoyed the status of being one of the area’s best Italian restaurants.
In 2002, Cornell’s expanded its size and business by relocating into two, refurbished bakery buildings in what is now known as Schenectady’s Little Italy. Today, under the present ownership of daughter JoAnn Cornell-Aragosa and her husband Jim, Cornell’s Restaurant has re-established itself as the Capital Region’s home of fine Italian cuisine. Diners can always expect plentiful portions of original family recipes offered at comparatively moderate prices.
Because of my life-long Schenectady residency and because of my 100 percent Italian lineage (our surname was changed from “Picerni” in the early 1900s), I am often asked by out-of-town visitors and guests, “Where should we go in Schenectady for the best Italian meal?” Without hesitation, I am always certain to suggest Cornell’s. It has a strong, local history and is family owned; it has a long-standing reputation of excellence; it enjoys a loyal following of many friends and discriminating diners; and its food is wonderfully, deliciously and authentically Italian.
The restaurant sits among several well-established Italian bakeries, pastry and sandwich shops, cafs and import specialty stores. Parking behind the restaurant is ample, even when Cornell’s three large dining rooms, banquet room (with a separate kitchen) and a charming outdoor Italian courtyard are full. My wife and I were ushered to a windowed, street-side table in the front dining room which consisted of eight tables and two large booths. All tables are covered in layered black and salmon linen tablecloths. Seating is in comfortable mahogany chairs of soft, black leather upholstery. The walls are painted in a warm, salmon tone to complement the elegant and inviting atmosphere. The bar, located off the front dining room, is spacious, mirrored, fully stocked and was a popular gathering spot on the night we visited.
Along with our choice of a glass each of the chilled house pinot grigio ($6.50), James, our patient and professional waiter, served us a shallow bowl of olive oil vinaigrette sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese for dipping and a basket of sliced Perreca’s Italian bread. We learned later that James is a proud, third-generation grandson of the Cornell-Aragosa family.
We casually reviewed the separate menus of hot and cold appetizers and decided to share one from each. My wife chose the Antipasto Di Lusso (for two): a platter of salami, cappicolla, provolone, roasted peppers and artichoke hearts in oil, black olives, anchovies, tomatoes and white tuna ($9.25). My choice was Shrimp Oreganato from the hot appetizer menu. This favorite Italian dish included four large baked shrimp with seasoned bread crumbs drizzled with olive oil and a touch of white wine ($9.95). An additional menu listed several specialty soups featuring homemade chicken soup with pastene and pasta fagioli, ditalini macaroni in a thick, white bean soup flavored with Italian ham. Each of the full-course dinners (steak, chicken, veal and seafood) were presented as separate menus, so extensive were the offerings. All entrees at Cornell’s Restaurant are served with bread, garden salad, potato and vegetable or pasta. And, as frequent patrons know, all entrees are very large so count on a “take-home box” and a tasty meal for the next day.
From our previous experiences at Cornell’s, we had pretty much decided beforehand on two of our favorite Italian dishes prepared and presented by chef and partner, Jim Aragosa. I always enjoy the Braciola Ronaldo, a very hearty dish of baked tender beef filet sliced thin, rolled and stuffed with Italian sausage in a red meat sauce ($19.95). I also requested a side serving of sauted spinach in olive oil and garlic ($2). The Veal Napoli, ordered by Nicki, is a more-than-you-can-eat, golden-baked tender veal cutlet layered with a tasty mix of spinach and ricotta cheese, beneath a layer of sliced eggplant and topped with a luscious layer of marinara sauce and melted mozzarella cheese ($23.95). Mamma Mia! Now that’s Italian!
Understandably, my wife did not opt for a dessert, but couldn’t resist several, sumptuous samplings of the rich, creamy tortoni ice cream I ordered ($4.75).
Our Italian feast at Cornell’s Restaurant in Schenectady’s “Little Italy” was simply “il meglio” (the very best). Congratulations and thank you for years of quality service and dedicated attention to the traditions of fine Italian cuisine.
The total bill, not including tax or tip, was $82.25.
Cornell’s Restaurant is located at 39 North Jay Street, Schenectady. For more information or reservations call 370.3825 or visit www.cornellsrestaurant.com.
Frank W. Pidgeon is an educator/school administrator, freelance writer and winemaker who lives with his wife, Nicki, in Rotterdam.