Paesano of Mulberry Street

Paesano of Little Italy in Manhattan

I know things change over time and often they will never be quite the same. So after more than 30 years I have to say goodbye to an old favorite.  Joey’s Paesano was so popular that back in the early 2000s they opened up a second location in the Theatre District of Manhattan to compete with Carmine’s.  I don’t know if that location is still there, but the original restaurant on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in Little Italy was sold and is now simply “Paesano of Mulberry Street”.  I don’t know what became of Joey, but photos of him and celebrities are still on the wall including Sinatra and Pacino.

What I love about this place is the sheer charm and setting of the inside of an old Italian barn.  This place inside has not change much, if at all in the past 3 decades I have been coming here. This is the table facing the bar is my favorite.

Obviously this is a very sentimental place, but as my father would joke, “take a good look at the inside of this place……. because it’s the last time you are ever going to see it”.  As I said, it is time to say goodbye. I already knew it was going to be the last time, but I had to do it.  I came here as a teenager, all through my college years with friends, on dates with young ladies who wanted to know the Italian experiences. And I even brought friends from out of town or the country who liked Italian food, I knew this was a solid sure-fire hit. I knew even back then it was not the best Italian restaurant in the world, but I knew that for the price, it was sure to please and the setting, neighborhood and ambiance could not get better.

So why go if I knew it was going to be a disappointment? One thing changed since the last time I was here more than a decade ago.  I was now married. A lot of things had happened in my life which kept me from coming here, but it was my wife’s birthday and since I shared this place with anyone and everyone,  it was only proper that her first visit to Little Italy in Manhattan I take her here so she can lock in and finalize the most romantic and significant restaurants I loved so much over the years.

To be fair, the only thing that has changed, is the food. While that might seem like the largest part of the equation, not all is lost.  I would come here for coffee, a drink, but not much else. The music, the atmosphere, the service, the setting lend a tremendous amount of romance to the whole Little Italy experience. But the food, well, I am ashamed to say that The Olive Garden could do a far better job. Even local strip mall pizzerias are heads and tails above this.

I hate to see this turn into an actual Olive Garden or Applebees or other major corporate mega chain. And while for some, there is nothing wrong with places like Chilis, Bennigan’s or TGI Fridays, it would be wrong to ru

in one of the most famous historic neighborhoods in the entire country if not the world. So much history is here, good and bad. Sure, a lot of mafia stories and settings of mafia movies, so it is for that very reason that the day I walk down Mulberry Street and see a McDonald’s is probably the last time I will walk that street again.  What I can say in that respect is that as a tourist trap it is very inexpensive. One appetizer, 2 glasses of wine and 2 entrees only came to $60 with tip. You can’t even get much cheaper than that elsewhere, let alone Manhattan.

The details, if you really want to know, are many. But to summarize, their “house wine” is no longer chianti, it is wine from Chile. Now I know that many South American wines are good, but to replace even the cheapest chianti with a generic Chilean wine in a historic Italian neighborhood named “Little Italy” is just wrong on so many levels.

The waiter was very polite and suggested that I don’t order the signature “Paesano’s Pasta” but go with something like the lasagna instead, but that too was a complete fail.  I never tasted wallpaper paste but I am going to guess this is what it tasted like, gummy, sticky, chewy, and not in a good way.  I am guessing they thought if you poured on enough low quality melted mozzarella cheese all would be fine.  It’s not.

My wife ordered my old all-time favorite, manicotti, but it looked almost exactly the same. It did taste better, but not by much.  My first attempt the following week at making manicotti far surpassed this experience.

Should I ever see the inside of this place again it will probably only be for an espresso or cocktail like a Negroni before we head elsewhere to eat.  I really do want to see this place again, but not any circumstances where food is involved.  It is a shame.  I really really wanted to say “its ok, great for the price” but the food is not ok even if the price is.  Goodbye old friend, I will miss you.


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