Art Of The Meal: It's A Family Thing
Alfredo's Italian Restaurant
1989 Cheshire Bridge Road N.E., Atlanta
Dinner served nightly.
Credit cards: All major.
Parking: In attached lot.
Dress code: Comfortably stylish.
Most good restaurants have a kind of cinematic quality. They are places you could imagine in a movie – you walk in the door, and you feel instantly familiar, like you’ve been here before.
At Alfredo’s, you might have tagged along with the Rat Pack, bellying up to the crowded bar while you wait for the nod from the red-vested, bow-tied host. Or maybe, like Olympia Dukakis, you were at the next table when a young girl dumped her drink on John Mahoney in Moonstruck. Perhaps you were safely in the back of the room when Tony Soprano and Pauly Walnuts came in for the veal. For that matter, you might have been there with the gang from Family Guy, drinking Pawtucket Patriot beer (Brian the dog, of course, sips a martini) at their favorite hangout, The Drunken Clam.
Everybody has a favorite Italian family restaurant, and this venerable Cheshire Bridge Road institution has welcomed regulars since 1974 to its windowless interior, lined with scenes of Venetian gondolas and blue Italian lagoons, and fragrant to every corner with garlic and sizzling scampi. Like most convincing portrayals, Alfredo’s is partly fictional – owner Perry Alvarez is from Cuba, not Italy, but he carried on Alfredo’s menu and mission after buying the place from the founder after two short years in business.
It’s the kind of room where family dramas and celebrations play out, complete with birthday cakes and candles, popping flashes and teary discussions of empty nests. Time marches on, outside on pockmarked Cheshire Bridge, and inside, as couples marry, have babies, become grandparents – but all while the music (“O Sole Mio” and “Theme from The Godfather”) and menu (saltimbocca, snapper Francese, linguine with clam sauce, New York strip) stay exactly the same.
This is delicious, but not cutting-edge food, the homey and sometimes slightly overcooked kind you might have been lucky enough to have if you grew up Italian-American in New York or New Jersey, as comforting and reassuring as – well, your plump and loving Nana.
While the food is old-style good and includes such hard-to-find dishes as scungilli (conch), baked clams casino (flecked with bread crumbs and lined with proscuitto), pink tomato vodka sauce, and sausage and peppers, and the wine list is more than serviceable, there’s something more to Alfredo’s, even more than the signature, creamy fettuccine-and-cheese dish that bears its name. It’s the courtly, Old World demeanor of the host and waiters, who can sometimes seem impatient and dismissive if you’re not decisive about what you want. Maybe that’s why I see so few women here dining alone.
On the other hand, you’ll often see tables of men digging into steaks, couples on dates, or extended families with kids. Here you can enjoy a perfectly foamy cappuccino, a slice of ricotta cheesecake, and feel you’ve had a special evening out, without breaking the bank.
Sure, it’s a time capsule with a masculine edge – that’s part of the charm. It’s a guy thing, but unlike the animated characters at the Drunken Clam, or even the tortured protagonists in The Sopranos, the men here are really family guys. They come here alone or with their colleagues, but they’ll be back with their wives, and daughters, and granddaughters.
If Rome is the Eternal City, Alfredo’s is the Eternal Family Italian Restaurant. Long may it braise.