The host sat at the front desk with a glass of red wine next to the reservation book. Pictures of famous Italian-Americans and local celebrities and neighbors adorn the walls. (The waitress told us that they were taking pictures of customers until recently when the camera broke.)
As the waitress opened the bottle of Chianti we brought, my wife noticed that the couple at the next table obviously didn't know the Butcher's Cafe was BYOB. The gentleman seemed to be sulking.
So, like good neighbors, we offered them each a glass from our bottle. (It's that kind of place.)
Ironically, the restaurant in a former butcher shop serves very little red meat, only the occasional rack of lamp special ($22.95).
About two-thirds of the menu is seafood and pasta. The menu does, however, make up for the lack of red meat with a wide selection of veal dishes and a few regular specials such as a large veal chop ($21-$25) topped with everything from crab meat to mushrooms and peppers to stuffed veal breast ($15).
We started talking about the food after the first few bites of bread. Chef Carlo Mennella makes Italian rolls by hand each day.
In these light crusty rolls, you can taste the salt in the dough, which makes them habit-forming. We had to make a concerted effort to stop eating them to avoid spoiling the rest of the meal - a meal that began in earnest with two seafood appetizers.
The grilled octopus ($7) arrived as a generous plate of extremely tender octopus in spicy marinara sauce, plenty of onions and strong black olives.
The fritto misto combo ($8) featured breaded and fried smelts, a rarity on menus in this country, as well as shrimp, oysters and tender squid.
My stuffed veal breast entree ($15), another special, didn't taste as good as it looked. The breast was stuffed with ground veal and herbs, and topped with marinated mushrooms and a brown sauce, which was light on flavor.
The real standout on the plate was the potato rounds, spiced and salted and fried until crispy on the outside.
Our second entree, hand-made gnocchi ($15) featured a light tomato-based sauce of shrimp, calamari and octopus. The tender calamari and octopus were delightful, and the gnocchi sturdy but not belly-busting.
With our table now piled high with to-go containers, dessert arrived. Both the chocolate zuppa inglese ($5) and tiramisu ($5) were obviously fresh, light, multi-level structures of creaminess. No soggy lady fingers on this plate.
Unfortunately, there were no decaf espresso beans for my wife's cappuccino, which seemed strange in this day of Starbucks and a 1,001 choices on every corner.
Often in BYOB restaurants, the prices are a bit higher to make up for the lack of profit the bar generates. Not here. Prices are very reasonable and the portions generous enough for the requisite doggy bag.
Now that's a good neighbor.
The Butcher's Cafe