This unexpected and somewhat eccentric two-year-old eatery is creating a buzz among North Shore aficionados of old-fashioned Italian-American restaurant dining. Remember when you could drop into a cozy little family-run trattoria in Boston’s North End and eat food so soulfully delicious, so unmistakably fresh and real, you’d swear Grandmother herself must be cooking in the kitchen? Years ago, she often was.
Now, it’s Antique Table chef and partner Abraham Gallego turning out those familiar and unfussy but fabulous dishes that made Italian-style food famous in the ‘50s and ‘60s: fried calamari, Caesar salad, pizza Margherita, chicken with ziti and broccoli, cheese ravioli, shrimp fra diavolo, and veal parmigiana, among others.
Plus, there are Gallego’s more modern inventions, conceived in the spirit and style of the menu’s traditional fare. Like the impeccably prepared Shrimp Grand Marnier: egg-battered shrimp are sauteed, flamed with Grand Marnier, and finished with orange juice, producing tender shrimp in a sweet and tart sauce, heated up with a gentle kick of red pepper.
Each ingredient in our Eggplant Rollatine, stuffed with mozzarella and Romano cheeses, basil, and marinara sauce, was distinct and tasty. The hearty Boscaiola Pizza combined Marsala-infused marinara sauce with mushrooms, prosciutto, and smoked mozzarella atop a crispy yet chewy grilled crust. Highly recommended.
We could go on about the pillowy Ricotta Gnocchi with wild mushrooms in Alfredo sauce; the tender, moist Chicken Piccata in a sauce of white wine and big, flowery capote capers; or the pasta and fresh-flavored Di Mare that alone could feed a small but happy crowd. Let’s just say this is no run-of-the-mill Italian joint cranking out vapid imitations of classics. Instead, Gallego has elevated these dishes to the level of true cuisine, and that means three things: excellent ingredients, sound recipes, and skillful cooking, all found in abundance here.
Most unexpected about this restaurant is the building itself. The outside looks like someone soaked huge swaths of cloth in plaster and pushed them up onto the exterior, which is exactly what happened. They did the same inside, and then decorated those crenellated walls with kitschy flea-market art, life-size tree replicas, and small antiques. The kitchen is elevated several feet above the dining room, similarly to a loft, behind a huge glass window that lets diners watch the cooks and vice versa. Overall, the effect is quirky, almost theatrical. Yet it’s charming like an eccentric old aunt and well worth a visit.
Chef: Abraham Gallego
Location: 2 Essex Street, Lynn, 781-477-9778, antiquetableonline.com.