The air outside was chilly, but, within Maria Ristorante Italiano in Sheepshead Bay, the vibe was warm and welcoming.
As two singers performed songs — “Volare,” “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “My Way” – hailing from an earlier era, waiters efficiently delivered brimming plates of food, refilled water glasses and generally made their customers feel like guests.
At a guess, many of the diners on the Saturday night that I visited are regular customers — the family feeling was all-embracing – and for good reason.
Well-prepared, reasonably priced food is a mainstay of this classic eatery, which has been performing its culinary magic since 1932, specializing in classic Neapolitan dishes and seafood plus newer dishes, as the restaurant’s menu continues to evolve, to please evolving palates. In addition, the restaurant features an extensive wine list with bottles from all over the world, plus a broad selection of imported beers
“We are a legend in Sheepshead Bay,” noted owner Jeffrey Brown. “People have known us for years and years and years. We made our name on Neapolitan cuisine but we are so much more than that.”
My party of three sampled some of Maria’s traditional dishes, plus a couple of the restaurant’s updated classics.
Who doesn’t love Minestrone ($5.50), and with Maria’s version, there was plenty to love, the generous bowl chock full of veggies and pasta.
A real standout was the Walnut Salad ($8.95), which was a symphony in contrasting flavors and textures – the chopped nuts enhanced by the sweetness of raisins and pungent blue cheese, all atop a bed of mesclun with a light vinaigrette dressing.
Off the specials menu, we tried the Asparagus Parmesan ($9), the perfectly cooked leggy spears topped with parmesan-spiked breadcrumbs to tantalize the tastebuds.
For our main course, we sampled food from different parts of the menu. One of us went uber-traditional, opting for a well-flavored Shrimp Parmigiana with a side of linguine in tomato sauce ($21.95). The six fat shrimp were delightfully tender, the pasta was al dente, and the combination was supremely satisfying.
The Veal Scallopini Francaise ($18.95) was lemony and buttery, the parsley-flecked meat fork-tender and succulent. Served with a side of linguine in garlic and oil, it was a main dish that was classic comfort food, Italian style, at its best.
Seguing to the specials menu, we also sampled the linguine with broccoli rabe, garlic, cherry peppers and sausage ($19). This contemporary take on main dish pasta featured the haunting taste of bitter greens, a perfect foil for the sausage chunks and the tart, spicy pepper slices.
By the time we got to dessert, we were full and happy, but we willingly made room for the Crème Brulee Cheesecake ($8.50), a dense confection with a caramelized topping and a graham cracker crust, drizzled with chocolate sauce and flanked by freshly whipped sweet cream.
And, yes, it was worth every bite.
MARIA RISTORANTE ITALIANO
3073 Emmons Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11235
Open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week
Sunday-Thursday, noon-10 p.m.
Friday, noon-10:30 p.m.
Saturday, noon-11 p.m.