I have seen Dominick’s Restaurant daily on my commute to work along Interstate 690 and finally got to dine at this Syracuse institution, located on 1370 Burnet Ave., with some friends on a Friday night in October. What was new for us sure wasn’t new for the dozens (hundreds?) of diners that jammed the parking lot and the restaurant when we arrived. We had a 6 p.m. reservation and the place was packed, with people already leaving.
Inside, all the generations were represented and few of the tables were reserved for two; this was more a “family dinner night,” except the families ate out. Upon my arrival I gathered our group who were waiting after being asked if they were with “Marti from The New York Times.” Hysterical. Yes, yes we are.
Owned and operated by the Tassone family, Dominick’s was established in 1980 with a goal to provide homemade food at a reasonable price. The portion sizes are huge and the prices small, with the average entrée coming in at less than $15 even in 2012, so it is easy to see why Dominick’s is such a popular spot. Every day of the week features specials, including prime rib dinner specials that also came in below $15.
We were shown to our table and greeted by our professional waiter, Sam Bucca, who has worked at Dominick’s and with the family for 25 years. Bucca is a philosopher; he explained that if you like your job, it pays well and gives you time off, then you can live a happy life. Well said, Sam.
After the Chianti was poured, we started with fried zucchini, chilled roasted red peppers and greens and beans. The surprise in the bunch, for me, were the red peppers. They were sweet and garlicky with a lot of oregano. I ate mine on top of Dominick’s homemade Italian bread, brought to the table with seeds and without.
A word about greens: This was a new discovery for me when I moved to the area years ago. While working in Utica, I sampled Utica greens from every restaurant there was. I now consider myself an expert on the subject, without regard to whether anybody else does. So these are not Utica greens, which is probably why they don’t call them Utica greens on the menu. This was more of a pasta fagioli, escarole in a soupier broth with a kicker of vinegar that we all enjoyed. Just like Nonni used to make, except Nonni was Yaya and therefore Greek. Capisce?
Our meals came with simple salads. Dominick’s prides itself on its homemade dressings, and the recipe for the house Italian is a closely held secret. Bucca obliged my journalistic obligations and brought us a tray with cups filled with all the available dressings for me to check out. My favorite of the bunch was the creamy blue cheese. There was also Parmesan Peppercorn, Russian, Caesar, Ranch, Crumbly Blue and Thousand Island.
I took Bucca’s recommendation and had the chicken Parmesan, his favorite. Again, the portion size was huge. The cutlet was crunchy and flavorful.
I called out to my dinner companions for input about their meals. The Renaissance men at my table all described their meals as “good.” Apparently they are “early” Renaissance men with limited vocabularies, so we had a little more fun by asking Bucca for some extra plates and making up mini-servings of all the entrees so everybody could try a taste.
Overall, I would describe everything as fairly lightly seasoned for traditional Italian-American fare. The linguine with white clam sauce and the scallop special both had the appropriate hint of garlic and butter. The veal Francoise was, again, good for a diner who prefers lighter fare.
When I asked about the clientele, I was told that while the regulars were there to be sure, the chicken riggies the restaurant took to the most recent Taste of Syracuse brought in a whole bunch of new diners seeking them out. On the continuum of chicken riggie spiciness, these came in at medium.
Far and away, the best dessert was the coconut cream pie as recommended by Bucca, again. Perfectly creamy goodness contrasted with the toasted coconut. The huge piece of pie gave all six of us a bite or two each.
Dominick’s is available for takeout and catering both on- and off-premises. The onsite catering takes place in a separate building next door that can accommodate up to 50 people.
Dominick’s Restaurant is open Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to midnight; and Sundays, noon to 11 p.m. For information, call 471-4262 or visit dominicksrestaurant.net.