This past weekend I drove up to Utica, New York for a family reunion and I had the pleasure of dining at Trattoria Calabria.
Now, Trattoria Calabria isn’t like other restaurants – and I don’t just say that because it has 5 star ratings on Yelp and Facebook and TripAdvisor. The food is great. But it’s a bit different because you can’t drop in for dinner on a whim, you can’t order up your favorite dish, and you absolutely cannot find your favorite vintage Chianti on their [non-existent] wine list.
If you want to eat at Trattoria Calabria, you have to call ahead and make a reservation. Danny, the proprietor (host/server/head chef/entertainer) will probably answer the phone. You will tell him how many people you’re bringing, and he will tell you what time dinner is being served that night. On the night of your reservation, you should arrive punctually with a bottle of wine under each arm.
On Friday, dinner was at 6 so we arrived just a few moments beforehand. My grandfather got there first and had already befriended some feisty octogenarians. It’s a very small restaurant with just a few tables, and it’s more reminiscent of visiting a friend than your average eatery. The atmosphere is friendly and the drinks flow freely, since it’s BYOB.
Like eating at Mom’s, there are no menus. Danny and his son cook one massive meal each night using the best ingredients they can find. Each course is a surprise, and none will disappoint.
We started with a delicious vegetable soup, followed by a salad and some bread.
Then he brought us a heaping bowl of mussels. Given the family atmosphere, I wasn’t shy about soaking up the broth with fluffy pieces of bread.
Our next course was sausage and cabbage. This is not something I would normally eat at home, so I was surprised to love it. I even took second-helpings, which I later regretted. Stomach space was already at a premium half-way through the meal.
As we were finishing the sausage, Danny brought out one of their signature dishes: the eggplant. We got a platter with 5 neat little stacks of eggplant parmesan one for each person at the table.
The last course from the kitchen was pasta with meatballs. If anyone wasn’t full yet, this heaping portion of shells simmered in a homemade sauce definitely took care of that. Like its predecessors, it was delicious, but I could only stomach a few bites because I was so full.
Just when I thought I could throw in the towel, the table next to us produced a rum cake from a local bakery. Giovanni at the next table (now “Uncle Giovanni” to me) was turning 90. We all sang to him and he blew out his candles, then he shared his cake with everyone in the restaurant.
It was certainly a night to remember. My brother and I have insisted that this restaurant become a staple on every Utica trip, and my parents seem happy to oblige.
Perhaps the best part? It’s only $25 a head, which is a steal considering both the quality and the quantity of the food. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit. You’ll find them at 706 Culver Ave, Utica, NY and remember to call ahead at (315) 724-0019.