The holiday’s are a time when tradition becomes ingrained into memory. For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has revolved around great family and friends, food and most importantly, Thanksgiving Eve. Considered the most popular partying night in New York City, when all kids are home from college, my family sticks to a more simple and magical tradition filled with Italian food and gigantic balloons.
Every year, we venture into the city to Carmine’s, an Upper West Side staple since 1990. The restaurant is bustling, with tons of families and friends, reuniting in a restaurant known for over-sized dishes, never ending supplies of wine, a loud environment and some of the best service in the city. Despite having a standing reservation for the past 20 years (we make our reservation for the next year on our way out), we generally have to wait in the bar area for 15-30 minutes, catching up with our friends we haven’t seen since the year before. Generally, my sisters try and sneak their beloved espresso martini, which Carmine’s makes to perfection, while giggling uncontrollably.
The restaurant has a relatively small bar area downstairs, with the large dining room upstairs away from the crowds of people waiting to be seated. During the holiday season, the large wooden columns are adorned with plants and holiday lights. Large menus hang on the walls, surrounded by photographs from days back in Italy.
Our group of 10-16 individuals, each year, sit in the same section, hoping for our favorite waiter, Scott to serve delicious food and great stories. Unfortunately, this year, he was off, but he still made his way in by the end of the meal to say hello after coming back from Thailand. This place feels like one big Italian family you hope to be a part of.
The food is consistently great, and gigantic. Everything sticks to its traditional Italian roots, creating classic Italian dishes loved for centuries. Each of the dishes seems more delicious then the last, with certain favorites sticking to our ordering regimen over the years. Even though I have probably had better versions of each dish elsewhere, Carmine’s aims to please, and they always deliver.
When you sit down, my favorite basket of bread at any restaurant is placed on the table. A variety of selections, ranging from sweet, simple and special. My favorite is the kind I describe as ‘pizza-bread’ with a little bit of tomato sauce and herbs baked into the dough.
We start out the meal simple, or as simple as you can be in a place where portions are sized for 10+ people. Caesar Salad, House Salad and Fried Calamari arrive on dishes the size of my arm, and are piled high.
The Caesar Salad is my favorite here. The dressing is just right with the salty hint of anchovy that I love. Everything else is done really well, solidifying the reason we order the dishes every single year.
However, my favorite part of the entire meal, and my real love for Carmine’s is the Eggplant Parmesan, piled high. It’s almost like a gigantic brick of eggplant, mozzarella and tomato-y perfection. The rest of the table is lucky to get a piece, since I always ask for this dish to be placed right in front of me upon arrival. We also indulge in the linguini with clam sauce, chicken Parmesan and a traditional chicken dish.
Finally, it’s time for dessert. Like everything at Carmine’s the portion size is significantly larger then anything you could imagine. The dessert is appropriately named “The Titantic,” since it a gigantic ship of brownie, vanilla & chocolate ice cream, bananas, strawberries, whipped cream, cookies, chocolate fudge and so much more. Every year, we celebrate my Mom’s birthday again with our family and especially the kid (Leigh, this year) who was away for college.
The monster of all desserts ends the ideal meal in the most joyous of ways. As we continue to lick our plates clean, the conversation continues for a good hour or two. The nice thing about Carmine’s is that it is a place to relax with friends and family, almost like being in someones home, minus the clean-up. They don’t put any pressure on you to leave to make room for other patrons. It’s not that kind of a place.
It’s a place for friends, family and a lot of Italian food.
Carmine’s – 2450 Broadway – New York, NY
Location: Upper West Side, NY
Perfect For: Big Groups, Special Occasions, Celebrity Sightings
Reservations: Recommended via OpenTable
Favorite Dishes: Eggplant Parmesan, Caesar Salad, Linguini with Clams, Titanic Dessert