Recently, two homestyle eateries opened in the city that even Watertown residents may not be aware of.
Friedes is a little diner on upper Court Street, a stones throw from Public Square, that opened in June. The Italian American Club on Bellew Avenue, between Arsenal and Coffeen streets, is now open to the public for lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
We explored both of these new restaurants and think youll be eager to hear what we have to say.
455 Court St.
Its not much to look at from the outsidea cross between one of those old railroad car diners and a chuck wagon from one of those ancient cowboy movies.
You might wonder what would entice someone to open a diner on a desolate section of Court Street. We found out that the owners of Mos Diner on Factory Street also own Friedes. They bought a dilapidated, mothballed eatery, cleaned it up and now serve perfectly acceptable diner food, and a bit more besides.
The interior takes you back in time, with red naugahyde-covered counter stools and booths, Formica counters and tabletops and the curved metal ceiling overhead, all reminiscent of the heyday of American diners after the Great Depression.
Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with homemade soups and chili, burgers and sandwiches, club sandwiches and wraps. Its all about large portions of classic diner food.
A bowl of chili, seasoned with lots of chili powder but not much else, was generous but lacked depth. Ketchupy was the word used across the table.
The country club club sandwich was more than three layers of toasted bread with cold stuff in between. Its a combination of meats and cheeses between layers of bread thats then grilled so the cheese oozes out and the innards are hot.
It came with ruffled chips and choice of a side. We chose potato saladvery tasty with a touch of vinegar for a little added zip.
Friedes red bar-b-que sandwich was very dinerish a hamburger bun overflowing with shortcut barbecue, ground beef and barbecue sauce with coleslaw right in the middle of it. Very tasty. With the accompanying hot, crisp commercial fries, the plate was barely able to contain all the food.
I love meatloaf. Friedes hot meatloaf sandwich was a plateful of homey comfort food, a big slab of savory meatloaf, noticeably flavored with thyme and slathered with a flavorful brown gravy that covered everything.
Just to make sure I got my gravy fix and cholesterol quotient, I ordered from the menu macaroni salad with gravy. Have you ever heard of that? The mac salad by itself was a bit on the bland side, but throw the brown gravy over it, and youve really got something there!
We didnt need dessert, but Monique, our enthusiastic waitress, made the ice cream bowl sound so good, we couldnt resist.
What appeared to be a flour tortilla formed into the shape of a bowl and deep-fried till crispy-flaky was filled with ice cream and covered with chocolate syrup. More than enough to satisfy the sweet tooths of three macho men crammed into a tiny diner booth sharing it with three spoons. Very cute.
Monique wasnt done with us yet. Have you seen ALL our menus? she interjected as she cleared the table. In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, theyve got the Wild Side menufrog legs, elk steak, alligator, kangaroo. No kidding!
Monique approached her job as if she owned the place, and in fact, she did. Monique is Mo, as in Mos Diner. She splits her time between the two restaurants, and her mother, perhaps not surprisingly, is named Friede.
Friedes is open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Lunch cost $36.88 before tip for the three of us. My buddies will be back for the $2.99 eggs, toast and coffee breakfast special. Ill be back for the kangaroo dinner. Priceless.
192 Bellew Ave.
Between Arsenal and Coffeen streets on Bellow Avenue is the Italian American Civic Association building, more commonly called the Italian American Club.
The club is rich in history, founded in 1935 and at its present location since 1949.
The club recently hired Geoff Puccia, former chef at Ives Hill Country Club, to be its executive chef and make the food operation more upscale.
The Italian American Club is now open to the public for lunch every Tuesday and Thursday. Lunch is served in the lounge, where the atmosphere is homey and the staff is friendly.
Having grown up in an Italian neighborhood on Long Island, I was reminded of the little ma and pa Italian restaurants that dotted my hometownsmall, quaint and cozy places, with the aroma of Parmesan cheese and fresh garlic as you stepped through the door.
Chef Puccias menu is much more than meatballs and spaghetti. You can get things like Caesar salad with bacon-wrapped scallops, an eggplant Parmesan sub, mushroom Swiss burger and toasted coconut shrimp over grilled Granny Smith apples with a raspberry habanero sauce.
We began with Geoffs soup-of-the-day, Italian wedding soup, made the right way with good-sized tasty meatballs in a rich chicken stock along with wilted escarole, Parmesan cheese and a little egg swirled in at the end.
Pasta e fagioli, a hearty traditional soup served here as an entrée with Italian bread, had the customary white beans and macaroni in a thick tomato-chicken stock along with diced veggies and herbs. Full of flavor, it really was a meal in itself.
Yuengling-battered haddock was excellent, the fish flaking at the touch of a fork, the crisp and light crust a greaseless delight to eat. Tasty seasoned fries filled out the plate.
Gnocchi with sausage was fantastic. I had tasted Geoffs zesty red sauce (gravy) at the Bravo Italiano Festival and fell in love with it. Here at the club, he tosses his gravy with ricotta gnocchi (little dumplings) that have the perfect chew to them. Sweet sausage, made right in the kitchen by club members, is the best. Great fennel flavor. Arrivederci, Gianelli.
Cari, an experienced waitress with a quirky sense of humor, wouldnt confirm whether the cappuccino mousse offered for dessert was made there or came from one of their restaurant suppliers. Club secret, she said with a little grin. Didnt matter. Smooth and silky, It was the perfect ending to a great lunch.
Three of us ate at the Italian American Club for $35.56. Alcoholic beverages are available, if desired. Credit cards are accepted.
The club is open for lunch 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday and the public is welcome to stop by. Its a great place to enjoy a reasonably priced homemade meal from a real chef.
You can contact restaurant reviewer Walter Siebel via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.