Nick's Picks: Antonetta's
I, like many other Italian-American twenty-somethings in Rochester, grew up hearing my parents talk about the old neighborhood.
“So and so? Oh yeah I grew up with them in the old neighborhood. We went to Jefferson High together.”
“Remember back in the old neighborhood when we used to go to Joey’s next to the mini-mart?”
Conversations between my parents and relatives seemed to always have at least one reference to their old stomping grounds.
For my parents, the old neighborhood was specifically between Child Street and Glide Street on its East and West, and Lyell Avenue and West Avenue on its North and South. This area was and still is commonly referred to as Dutchtown. Depending on who you talk to, the old neighborhood may have been a slightly different plot of downtown Rochester.
At the time, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Dutchtown looked much different than it does now. Dozens of small businesses, restaurants, bars, family-owned grocery stories, and most importantly, factories with hundreds of jobs littered the area. A thriving local economy led to a community of thousands—mostly first and second generation immigrants from Italy and Germany. It wasn’t a luxurious place, but jobs were plentiful and the streets teemed with culture and energy.
Expressways were built in stages throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, allowing downtown residents to easily access different parts of Rochester. In that same period, wages increased much faster than cost of living. These changes led to Dutchtown residents slowly emptying out to bigger homes in the now easy-to-reach suburbs throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. The desertion of Dutchtown was accelerated by factory jobs leaving the U.S. en masse during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Now, Dutchtown remains a blue-collar, working class area, albeit much emptier than when my parents lived there. What still stands in the old neighborhood is Antonetta’s, an Italian restaurant and Rochester landmark that bridges a gap between generations.
This 39-year-old restaurant on Jay Street is unchanged by time. A small bar abuts Antonetta’s dimly-lit dining room which is outfitted with red and white checkered tablecloths, dark carpeting, and wooden walls that are decorated with framed pictures of Frank Sinatra and New York Yankees legends. Throughout the years, ownership has stayed in the family. Current owner Matt Petrillo is the grandson of the original owner, Nick Petrillo.
Antonetta’s service is warm and familiar, and its prices are reasonable to accommodate the community it calls home. The most popular dishes are what you would expect: freshly made pastas with a rich, earthy, red sauce, baked lasagna, chicken and veal parmesan, greens and beans, oxtail, and tripe are all customer favorites. Petrillo, who also owns The Meatball Truck Co., serves his meatballs over a bed of spaghetti or in a cup with basil and fresh ricotta. Antonetta’s uses local ingredients as often as possible and also collaborates with Flour City Bread Company for their sandwiches.
It is now a trend to advertise restaurants as a communal experience because of close quarters or food that can be easily shared. While space between tables at Antonetta’s is ample and the food is better enjoyed on your own plate, the sense of community is undeniable. At any given point, Antonetta’s seats local politicians, businesspeople, construction workers, police officers, nurses, regulars who have lived in Dutchtown their whole life, and families visiting from surrounding suburbs who want to show their children what the old neighborhood was all about.
Antonetta’s is located at 1160 Jay Street. Hours can be found Facebook.com/pg/Antonettas-Restaurant
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