Joe Chirico has been serving up homemade Italian meals unlike any other at his Carroll Gardens eatery, Marco Polo Ristorante, for the past 29 years.
What has been his secret to success?
“Serve good food and be consistent with good service,” explained Chirico, who was born in San Martino, Italy. “When the customer walks in, make sure they are part of the family.”
That must be why customers come from all over the tri-state area for the food – and when you see the restaurant and try the food, it’s no surprise. Although the interior is reminiscent of a classic Italian restaurant, with brick walls, dim lighting and an attentive staff, the food is truly ahead of the times while also being inspired by traditional Italian cooking.
Marco Polo features both northern and southern Italian cuisine. Most of the pastas are made by hand on the premises and the desserts and gelato are made by pastry chef Bruno Meloni who hails from Puglia. Chirico’s son Marco mostly oversees the menu, which changes with the seasons.
We got a taste of the newly rolled out summer menu, which was paired with the delightful Dreaming Tree Chardonnay (ask server for prices). The wine was very light and fruity, but not dry like most chardonnays.
The classic tomato bruschetta was lovely, made with the perfect amount of garlic. Even my husband, who does not like tomatoes, enjoyed this fresh and flavorful treat.
As an appetizer, I had grilled scallops over a salad of organic greens and mandarin oranges (market price varies). The meaty scallops paired well with the sweet slices of juicy mandarin. The ingredients, like all of the rest of the fish and veggies on the menu, come from the markets at Hunt’s Point in the Bronx.
My husband opted for a generous serving of Oysters Rockefeller ($12.95), which were excellent: creamy and delicious, with mozzarella cheese and spinach on top.
Next was Marco Polo’s “famous” Fettuccine al Vino Rosso ($17.95), which is prepared table-side with homemade fettuccine made with flour and red wine instead of water, giving the pasta a red hue. It is sautéed in olive oil in a pan, then poured onto a huge wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and mixed with cheese shavings from the wheel. This way, “The cheese gets toasted and the pasta takes the cheese,” explained Chirico. The dish is finally served on your plate and is fresh, light and simple but heavenly.
For an entrée, I enjoyed the filet mignon (market price), which was grilled to perfection and served on top of grilled zucchini and eggplant, with mashed potatoes on the side. The meat cut like butter and was extremely savory. The vegetables were meaty, yet tender and tasty.
My husband’s striped sea bass (market price) was grilled and served on a bed of garlicky spinach and mashed potatoes. The fish was mild and meaty, complementing the fresh and creamy vegetables.
To help wake us up from encroaching food comas – we were served cups of hot espresso. The sweet and rich drink was just the thing to clear the palate for our next course – dessert ($7-8).
Rolling by on laden dessert carts, the apple strudel was warm, crispy and full of cinnamon, pairing perfectly with the homemade vanilla gelato. Where the strudel was a mouthful of comfort, the Italian cheesecake was almost sinful, made with ricotta and a bit of anise, and served with strawberry syrup.
Chirico and his wife, Rosa, generously shared their meal with us, speaking to the staff in Italian, making the dining experience that much richer. By the time we were finished, we almost felt drunk from all the good food, but couldn’t wait to come back again.
Marco Polo Ristorante
345 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday
Tuesday through Thursday – open 12 p.m. to 10 p.m,
Friday through Sunday – open 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.