Dino would have like Pencenzo. Frank: loved it. Tony B. from Astoria, for sure. And you, too.
Pencenzo is a bastion of soulful, expertly prepared Italian-American cooking where every day is Sunday.
Yes, a fettucine all'Alfredo will slip in along with veal Milanese. But the heart of Pencenzo robustly beats south of Rome.
There are many restaurants in Queens, Nassau and Suffolk that specialize in the ritual sacrifice of tomatoes, the incendiary execution of garlic, the defilement of extra-virgin olive oil. It can be a brutal business. Pencenzo is an immediate reward for enduring all those metallic sauces and limp pastas, and seafood tougher than Captain Nemo.
Begin with the well-dressed seafood salad; or try the savory baked clams oreganata and ample stuffed mushrooms.
The kitchen excels with hearty, bracing soups such as the pasta piselli, with plenty of peas amid the tubettini; pasta e fagioli that could pass as a main course; and a rustic, warming minestrone.
Penne all'arrabbiata expresses its definite outrage with just enough pepperiness to spark the appetite. Satisfying linguine alla puttanesca, with capers, olives and anchovies, tartly keeps alive the spirit of the dish. Manicotti are very light and very good in a snappy red sauce.
A terrific special is the double-cut veal chop showered with rounds of fried potato, onions and hot cherry peppers. A tender veal chop joins double-cut lamb chops, sirloin steak and fennel sausages in the carnivore's carnival of a mixed grill.
They prepare exceptional beef braciola, studded with pine nuts and raisins. The union of escarole and sausage is another ode to country cooking. Crackling sausages contribute to the superior chicken scarpariello.
Pencenzo takes the addictive ingredients of pizzaiola sauce and applies them to a slab of halibut for a surprising success. Instead of overwhelming the fish, the sauce boosts it. You can dive into steak alla pizzaiola assuming that your companion already has staked claim to the eggplant rollatine. A salad of mixed greens with nuggets of Gorgonzola cheese should make a cameo appearance about now.
Assuming you've paced yourself, consider the lush, freshly filled cannoli; a hero's wedge of Italian cheesecake; or a slice of cassata, laced with the anise-flavored Galliano liqueur.
An espresso or two later, you'll exit humming. Maybe "Summer Wind.''
Peter M. Gianotti