Table Talk: Mario’s Restaurant
By Blaze Marshall
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Success doesn’t happen overnight in this restaurant business!
Places open and close two years later. Some locations change ownership, some owners change the menu, the ambiance. Many more change chefs, prices, hours, etc, etc. The mortality rate is the highest in any business.
But a few survive for many years with ownership in the same family. They have the same atmosphere, changing only their recipes with the demand. These places become synonymous with the area. Saratoga’s Wishing Well, Amsterdam’s Raintree, Albany’s Jack’s Oyster House and until recently Wallie’s in Greenwich. Just to name a few!!
Lake George has its own place – and it’s Mario’s! Opened in 1954 by the Mazzeo family, it’s still a dining out tradition for locals and visitors alike. Before the Northway, the Lac Du Saint Sacrement, the Prospect Mt. Highway and the new County Municipal Center there was Charlie and Rena Mazzeo’s home ala restaurant.
Folks drove up from Albany, walked across the street from their motels or came down the Bolton Road to enjoy their great Italian cuisine. The restaurant has seen some renovations but for the most part little has changed.
Mario’s sparkling and neat white restaurant is nestled between Lake George Village’s many motels, just south of the intersection of Route 9 and Lakeshore Drive. It’s cozy and beautifully landscaped appearance beckons one to come inside almost anytime of the year.
Seasonally diners crowd the tiny bar and lounge or wait outside the front door on the lawn. I always marvel at the magic of the one lone valet parking attendant who manages to park 20-25 cars in spaces that are meant for 15. Another Mario’s secret!
Now, in their 53rd season, Paul and Nancy Nichols carry on a delicious tradition to the delight of all who come to enjoy the Italian arches, huge pots of faux flowers, framed scenes of Italian landscapes, strings of tiny white lights, and the usual grapes as well as a seasoned and highly efficient waitstaff.
Tonight, a day before Mother’s Day, our gang was out in full force, first to the bar to enjoy Sonyja and then escorted to a nice center table by Debbie, a veteran of 25 years. Valarie, our waitress, delivered two baskets of warm Italian bread and called our attention to some extra virgin olive oil, fresh parmesan and a tiny tureen of fresh horseradish should we wish to dip.
We ordered a variety of beverages, including a good Yellowtail Shiraz from Australia, a Mario’s house wine. Among other very fine wines by the bottle offered are a Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale and, one of my personal favorites, a California Blackstone merlot. Both good values from a surprisingly good wine list.
Chef Paul Nichols and his long-time assistant Charlie Frasier offer some wonderful baked sausage Parmigiana, fettuccini Alfredo and clams casino as appetizers. There’s also a great signature minestrone soup.
Diners can choose from a variety of imported pasta prepared with marinara cream sauce, oil and garlic, red or white clam sauce, mushroom or a calamari sauce. Specialty pasta dishes include a baked manicotti or eggplant parmesan, jumbo cheese ravioli and three-cheese lasagna. Our crew was all a little more adventurous.
Golfer Dan, shut out with three days of rain, and Watercolor Friend both chose chicken Milanese that consisted of several chicken cutlets pounded thin and lightly breaded with a hint of lemon.
Our region’s foremost Analyzer went mainstream with a very hearty veal Parmigiana smothered with mozzarella and a tangy spaghetti sauce. His spouse and Miss Picky Eater teamed up with a heaping order of eggplant Parmigiana baked with parmesan, Romano and mozzarella cheese. Miss Side of the Brook, a real Italian damsel, hit a home run with a side of pasta with garlic, oil and some fresh anchovy filets. Not for everyone, but a great side combo.
Big Brother and Nurse Mary checked in with another eggplant and a platter of chicken Saltimboca. Tender slices of breast meat anointed with marsala wine, prosciutto ham and mozzarella atop some fresh spinach. First Lady, coming off a two-week intensive nursing stint, substituted veal for her usual Saltimboca.
Yours Truly, always adventurous, went to Mario’s special menu for three succulent tilapia filets, broiled in a very light lemon butter. Nice, mild white fish, very moist and cooked to absolute perfection.
All Mario’s entrees come with a choice of house salad or soup and again I strayed from everyone else, choosing tonight’s pasta a fagioli. A nice, light, spicy tomato broth that did not disappoint. House salads are more than ample bowls of very fresh greens and veggies. All chose pasta on the side but some very crisp green and yellow beans finished with a garlic oil was my choice.
Valarie, a former Lucille’s staffer, got us all to share an assortment of parfaits and a cheesecake. Big Brother got treated to a pre-birthday dessert and a song by the waitstaff.
Mario’s adds on 17% gratuity for large parties like ours, which is a bargain for the smooth, polished service delivered by their waitstaff.
Gone from the local restaurant scene are Vincent’s, Sky Harbor, the Delevan, La Casa and the Woodbine.
The Mario’s legend lives on!!!