Taking over a successful restaurant is a challenge. Memories of meals past mingle with those yet to be made. Keeping alive the heritage of an institution can prove even more formidable. Mastering the tightrope connecting the old and new requires balance, concentration, and commitment.
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Upgrades have been made to the interior at the 65-plus-year-old Lincoln Lounge, but some original touches, like wood-paneled walls, remain.
New owners Federico Guglielmo and Gerardo Petti (Guglielmo’s family owns Full Moon Pizza of Arthur Avenue) have committed to let “the legacy continue” at the venerable Lincoln Lounge in Mount Vernon. The Solano family operated the restaurant for 65 years, serving their last meal in May 2015. The partners reopened the place in October 2016, retaining many of the original touches, like the photo-covered, wood-paneled walls and upholstered bar, but adding new lighting and renovated restrooms.
The concept is red-sauce Italian, and the red sauce is really good. It appears across the menu as a chunky marinara alongside crunchy fried calamari, as a smooth foil for dishes like lasagna and the trio of parmigiana (chicken, meatball, and eggplant), and as the base for a number of the brick-oven pizzas. Lots of garlic, good tomatoes, herbs, and slow cooking meld the mix into a powerful, flavor-packed foundation.
On our first visit, we were seated at a table at the narrow bar. A group of middle-aged men were speaking Italian. They nibbled nuggets of Reggiano and shards of warm, crusty bread spread with the excellent house-made caponata. Air-kissing friends of the new owners stopped in for a bowl of pasta and a helping of conversation. A cousin of the original owners sat at the bar and boasted how he and his wife used to spend every Friday night on the very same stools. He remembered how on New Year’s Eve the place would be closed to all but the closest family and friends. This eclectic mix of characters brought the place to life.
The food is solid, formed from good ingredients that are in the very capable hands of a seasoned kitchen crew, some of whom worked for the Solanos. Nouvelle it is not, more a mix of time-honored, professionally accomplished, recognizable Italian American dishes with a few flourishes to keep things interesting.
From the antipasti section, the meat-and-cheese platter is a good way to start. Paper-thin slices of prosciutto de Parma and soppressata mingle with provolone, olives, and house-roasted peppers, the lot liberally drizzled with good olive oil. The polpette (meatballs) were tender and tasty, enrobed in that red sauce and liberally sprinkled with grated cheese. The clams oreganata were plump and juicy, though the breadcrumb topping could have been left under the broiler a little longer for my taste. The escarole-and-bean soup was hearty and satisfying, especially on a chilly evening.
Pizzas are well made and in the tradition of counter-service slice shops.
If you are looking for wood-fired, puffy-edged, slightly charred pizza, you won’t find it here. What you will find is a well-made, brick-oven version more akin to your neighborhood joint. Thin crust, good cheese, and fresh toppings come both in large or small round versions. The thicker, square Nonna Pan Pie is good enough to stand on its own without the gratuitous slices of (out-of-season) tomatoes. On the more substantial side of the menu, the traditional sandwiches, lasagna, spaghetti carbonara, linguine de mare, chicken Francaise, pork chops Napoletano, and shrimp scampi are all well-prepared versions of these tried-and-true formulas.
A chicken Roma special showed just how good the kitchen at the Lincoln Lounge can be. Half a young chicken was cut up, sautéed until its skin was burnished and crackling, its meat moist and tender, surrounded by a shimmering brown sauce garnished with diced buttery butternut squash, rings of hot cherry peppers, silky eggplant, and caramelized mushrooms. The side potato croquette, often not much more than a toss-in at many restaurants, was easily the best I have ever had. Crisp exterior, unctuous creamy filling with bits of herbs and a hint of nutmeg, I used it to soak up every last bit of the supple sauce on my plate.
The house-made tiramisu is a faithful rendition.
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The two desserts we tried — house-made tiramisu and Italian chocolate pudding —were, again, well-executed renditions of
Service was friendly and prompt. The owners and young staff were attentive and knowledgeable. You got the feeling they were genuinely happy you were dining with them. As the motto on the menu says: Mangiare, Bere e Divertirsi! (“Eat, drink and be merry!”)
P. J. Correale is a seasoned veteran with more than four decades in the restaurant industry as an owner and chef.