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Weekend picks: Play ball!

Sportswriter Thomas Boswell authored a book with the highly apropos title, "Why Time Begins on Opening Day." The clock has started.

The Mets open the '11 campaign tonight in Florida. The home opener is next Friday against Washington. So, plan ahead. You can eat very well at Citi Field, which has some of the best offerings for fans, from Shake Shack to Blue Smoke and beyond.

There also are worthwhile options en route the ballpark. Here are three.

If you're taking the railroad from Port Washington, you can dine before or after the game at Montebello, a family-style Italian spot. The menu is full of familiar favorites, from Parmigianas onward. They include stuffed mushrooms, chicken scarpariello, pork chops with vinegar peppers, snapper marechiaro, capellini primavera and linguine with eithwe red or white clam sauce.

Montebello is at 14 Haven Ave., Port Washington; 516-767-7828.

Chinese and Japanese dishes compete at Pearl East, on Northern Blvd. in Manhasset. It's a reliable choice, either way. Celebrate a win with soup dumplings, either crab or pork; chicken lettuce wraps; lobster with black bean sauce; lemongrass-grilled pork chops; orange beef; plus tempuras and sushi. The take-out selections include many of the eat-in specialties.

Pearl East is at 1191 Northern Blvd., Manhasset; 516-365-9898.

You can reach the Cross Island Parkway easily from King Umberto in Elmont, a very good restaurant and pizzeria. Sample the Sicilian pie, the Neapolitan, the white pizza, the garlic knots. Tasty soups, including minestrone and pasta e fagioli; as well as husky sandwiches, among them chicken Parmigiana and sausage-and-peppers.

King Umberto is at 1343 Hempstead Tpke., Elmont; 516-352-8391.

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