Bamonte's opened in 1900 and has maintained the proud tradition of the Italian-American white tablecloth/red sauce joint ever since. It has remained in the same family since its inception: Anthony Bamonte, grandson of founder Pasqualte Bamonte, owns the restaurant these days. While the menu today has remained unchanged for decades (save for price hikes), Bamonte's is so old that it is older than many of the dishes on the menu.
Clams Casino ($11.50), for example, was not created until at least a decade after Bamonte's opened. Its inclusion here indicates that the menu at Bamonte's wasn't always as fixed as it has been for the last five decades or so.
I like the rudimentary version of clams casino at Bamonte's: the clam is left largely unmolested, served simply under a canopy of bacon with a flourish of parsley and lemon. It might lack artifice but makes up for it with a briny heartiness punctuated buy a smoky saltiness from the bacon.
The pasta portions are simply enormous, easily big enough to share.This is a half order of Linguine with White Clam Sauce ($16.50).
Here is the other half. As classic a rendition of the dish as you will find: an oily broth, redolent with garlic, served with al dente linguine and tender morsels of clam.
The Rigatoni a la Vodka ($16.50) is handled with equal faithfulness to archetype: laced with the reassuring heat of red pepper and a salty punch of pancetta (okay, probably bacon these days, but the effect is the same). The chunky sauce drapes itself salaciously over the tubes of rigatoni.
The Veal Parmigiana ($22.95) is another classic rendition. The pounded veal comes with a crisp breadcrumb coating, blanketed with a just-melted amorphous mass of milky mozzarella. The red sauce adds both a sweet note and some welcome acidity.
Save room for dessert, like the quivering slab of Tiramisu ($6) that, despite its apparent heft, is actually deceptively light and delicate.
It is the continuity from plate of pasta to plate of pasta, from generation to generation that makes Bamonte's such a vital, quintessential part of the story of the city of New York. Eating there feels as much a ritual as a meal, and it's a fuss-free taste of Italian-American cuisine that we rarely see these days. If you live in New York, or just want to understand the city better, you owe it yourself to eat at Bamonte's, if only once. You won't only be tasting history—you will become a part of it.
32 Withers Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (map) 718-384-8831