A few weeks ago, my friend Mike walked into the bar wearing a nice button-down shirt instead of his usual sports jersey. I asked where he had been and he said he had had dinner at Don Peppe with family. I had never been and immediately said I needed to go. Christian, who was sitting next to me, said we should go. Since it is a family-style restaurant, we needed more people. Soon there was a group coming with us – Diane, Rizza, Marnie, Linda, and Joanna. Then Marnie had to bow out (she’s a nurse and they were short-staffed), so we asked Teresa to come with us.
Don Peppe is a south Queens – a NYC – institution. Written up in The New York Times and New York Magazine. Old school Italian but not everything you would expect – like there are no meatballs. Your choice of alcoholic beverage is homemade red or homemade white wine (served in unlabeled open bottles and chilled) or Peroni. No website. Cash only. No reservations. The staff of older men can have an attitude, but we did not get any of that. The walls are covered with jockey silks and other horse racing items. It is near Aqueduct and JFK.
We had chosen a Wednesday night, so there was no line and it was easy to get a table for seven people. On the way we teased Christian about his harem. Most of us had never been to the restaurant and if you live in Queens you have to go here at least once in your life.
The only menu is on the wall. No specials.
They immediately put bread on your table with butter and they kept refilling the breadbasket for us because we kept using it to sop up the various delicious sauces. I had the red wine, which reminded me of a Chianti and was very good. There are probably one or two things I would have liked to try but I let the others choose and I was good with what they had chosen.
After we ordered, the waiter plopped a set of dishes next to me on the table. Diane, who had been there before, told us to leave them there. First the Salad Don Peppe came out – lettuce, tomato, onions, red pepper, and olives – and he put the big bowl down and then spooned some salad into each plate. Just enough for each that the big bowl was empty when he was done.
It was a salad and I was hungry (despite filling up on bread) and I was happy. Then came the mozzarella, tomato, and roasted peppers, which had a really nice olive oil and balsamic vinegar on it. That is when I started using the bread as sauce retrieving device.
Next were the baked clams. The waiter skillfully picked up three clams at a time with two big spoons and put them on everyone’s plate. Since Teresa does not eat seafood, he added an extra for all of us. The garlic, clam juice, and olive oil were so delicious. And more bread was needed for the table.
Now we were ready for the linguine with clam sauce.
They brought out a smaller plate of spaghetti pomodoro for Teresa but it still was a big plate and most of us took a small bite of it. More sopping up of the sauce – Don Peppe’s gravy is one of the best.
Our mains were chicken marsala and broccoli rabe with sausage. This time we all served ourselves. You could cut the chicken with a fork and the marsala sauce was one of the best I have ever had. Really light and bright and again more bread. Plus I scraped up the extra mushrooms onto my dish. I do not like broccoli rabe and I am not a big fan of sausage but I tried the sausage and was surprised at how much I liked it.
Dessert. Everyone else wanted the tartufo (chocolate and vanilla and pistachio) and I got the tortoni because it has been ages since I have had it. All the ice cream was very frozen. We had warmed plates, so the ice cream started to melt as soon as you put it on your plate. I also wanted to try the sorbet but, like everyone else, we were all busting. That is also why I did not try the cheesecake. The only dessert beverages are espresso or cappuccino.
Christian and his harem.
It was an incredible meal and now that I have been, I want to go back and try more of the dishes. They close at 9:30 and it was about that time when our meal ended. The waiters were taking the white tablecloths off the unoccupied tables and at the table next to us, several men gathered for a poker game. Since it was closing time, I assume the game goes on after-hours.
By Carene Lydia Lopez