The first time you hear the birthday song at Patrizia’s, you can’t believe what’s happening.
As a waiter approaches a table with a candlelit dessert, everyone in the dining room starts twirling their napkins over their heads and singing as if possessed: “Today’s your birthday. Today’s your birthday. Stand up and give a cheer. Today’s your birthday. Today’s your birthday. And we’re glad that you are here.” The second time, you are annoyed: This again? I’m trying to eat! The third time, you’re twirling your own napkin and singing at the top of your lungs.
Ultimately, Patrizia’s wins you over. The place has all the charm of a barn — and a barn’s acoustics to boot. Voices compete with the piped in music and early in the evening, it’s difficult to talk. As the night progresses, conversation becomes impossible. The birthday songs come faster and furiouser and, on weekends, the whole room may start singing along to “Sweet Caroline” or “Greased Lightning.”
Patrizia’s is a happy ending to the sad history of this location in the Planet Fitness shopping center in Hicksville. The first restaurant tenant, Pizza Fabbrica, opened in 2013, shortly shortened its name to Pizza Fab!, then morphed into DeBello’s, which closed last spring.
Somehow, without making any major changes to the décor, Patrizia’s has triumphed. It’s the seventh location of the metropolitan area mini-chain whose owners, Naples-born brothers Gennaro and Giacomo Alaio, began their careers as waiters at Viva Loco in Bellmore before opening the first Patrizia’s Italian restaurant in the Bronx in 1991.
What draws customers to Patrizia’s — besides the boisterous atmosphere (or, in some cases, despite it) — is big portions of good food at good prices. The best deal with the most food is the family-style dinner — an option ordered by about three quarters of diners. For $50 a head, you can stuff yourself silly and drink unlimited beer, wine, sangria or soda. (For a $5 upcharge, you get wood-roasted lobster with mussels and clams.)
The family-style onslaught begins with seven starters, which ranged from perfectly good (eggplant Parmesan, fried calamari, Margherita pizza) to exceptional (tender grilled baby octopus, little blobs of burrata on a bed of fennel, sweet and garlicky baked clams). Only the artichokes gratinata, canned artichokes that had been breaded and run under a broiler, disappointed.
You’ll already be full when they bring on the house-special pasta, fioretti alla boscaiola, little “purses” filled with ricotta in a mushroom-prosciutto cream sauce, a surefire crowd pleaser. And fuller still for the platter overflowing with lamb chops and skirt steak.
Nothing on the silvertone platter of pastries (most of them made elsewhere) tempted my party, but we were so far beyond full, that was a blessing. The espresso (included) was all the finale I needed, and if I’d wanted to end the meal on a sweet note, I could have added a glug of Sambuca from the bottle proffered with it.
The menu items not included in the family-style dinner are every bit as appealing. I was taken by the fennel salad, a big heap of ribbons dressed simply with lemon and olive oil and garnished with neatly trimmed orange slices and (extraneous) cherry tomatoes. Patrizia’s “original baked ziti” was not served in a baking dish, was not ziti (it was penne) and was slightly overcooked at that. But this molten amalgam of pasta, ricotta, mozzarella and tomato nevertheless hit every sweet spot, as did the orecchiette with broccoli raab and sausage.
On to entrees. The tender cutlets in our chicken Francese were veiled with an unusually delicate eggy crust. At the other end of the spectrum was a bruiser of a double-cut pork chop loaded with onions and peppers. Skip the sole oreganata, dry and undistinguished.
Dessert choices come down to those pastries and a selection of gelato “truffles” which are just balls of ice cream enrobed in chocolate. Once again, you’re better off ordering an espresso, which may also help startle you out of your food coma.
Service at Patrizia’s is professional and friendly but brusque: They are trying to get you in, get you fed, get you out. On a busy night, you’ll probably have to wait for a table even if you made a reservation. Console yourself with the thought that you will be able to wish a musical happy birthday to that many more fellow diners.