On a recent Thursday night, normally a relatively quiet evening for restaurants, Marine Park favorite Michael’s Restaurant was packed.
The long-time eatery, which began as a corner pizzeria 50 years ago, and expanded to a full-service restaurant plus a catering hall (and a bakery across the street, as well as a purveyor of its own jarred sauces, now available as far away as Hawaii), offers up classic Italian fare with a twist – certainly one reason Michael’s has remained a go-to spot for Italian cuisine for decades.
Another is the family touch. The pizzeria that started the dynasty was begun by the grandfather of Michael Cacace, the current host and chef, who runs the restaurant with his father — who works the front — and uncle, who is also the chef. “At least one of us is always here, usually two of us,” noted Cacace. “That’s not that common, these days.”
But, the most important ingredient in Michael’s success is the food that is served. Prepared on-site using fresh ingredients – including tomatoes and olive oil from Italy – everything we tasted was offered up in generous portions – enough, even, to make a second meal.
One of the appetizers recommended by Cacace was the elegantly leggy Sautéed Baby Artichokes ($13), tart and tender, but crisped at the edges, and piled high with slices of fried garlic.
Cold appetizers must not be overlooked, either, with items such as the Crabmeat Cocktail ($17) treating you to huge chunks of sweet, meaty crab, iced and served with lemon and homemade cocktail sauce on the side.
By this time, not surprisingly, at least we were already beginning to feel quite satisfied. Of course, we had already been nibbling on the bread (including spongy rosemary focaccia) and the little tray of salumi, olives and cheese brought to our table just to get us going.
But, the main courses certainly cried out for us to do them justice.
The Chicken Francese ($24) was delightfully lemony. The sizeable portion (two cutlets, garnished with a slice of lemon and a sprinkle of parsley) was accompanied by a separate plate of hot vegetables – a creamy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside potato croquette, plus garlicky string beans and chunks of carrot.
The Broiled Filet of Sole ($28) makes for a lovely presentation, its two filets of pale meat blending gorgeously with the orangey-brown broil and seasoning marks. The taste is light and surprisingly palate cleansing; a squeeze of lemon, however, really elevate the flavors. The fish is also served with vegetables, and can be ordered Francese or Oreganata style if desired.
After dinner, we enjoyed a plate of crisp almond-studded biscotti and then moved onto dessert, which at Michael’s, is well worth it, if you have got the room.
We tried the Sugar and Cinnamon-Coated Zeppole with Chocolate and Melba Sauce ($9). The sumptuous cylinders of fried dough – amazing alone or dipped into the one of the two available sauces – neither tasted nor looked anything like the ones you get in a brown paper bag at street festivals. Rather, they were graceful little nibbles that begged to be eaten.
The Homemade Spumoni Slice ($7) features a trio of ice cream flavors: smoothly nutty pistachio, light-yet-rich chocolate and vanilla that you can taste the vanilla bean in.
A single visit to Michael’s is enough to explain why the third-generation restaurant remains so popular, but a single taste is, of course, never enough. And with the pastry shop across the street and jarred tomato sauces available around the world, you probably won’t have to.
MICHAEL’S OF BROOKLYN
2929 Avenue R