1483 1st Ave
City: NYC citywide, NY
Phone: (212) 988-8877
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Area: East 70s
Sometimes a very modest-looking restaurant can be surprising. That was my experience at Marzzuella, an old-time spot on First Avenue that turns out to produce some A-OK Italian food.
The crowd at this brick-walled place with yellow and orange walls separated by wood wainscoting skews oldish--plenty of assisted walking devices and scooters but late August is a peculiar time and many (younger) folks have decamped. The restaurant is smallish with one area delineated by arches in the de-rigueur brick wall. Waiters, clad in blue polo's, are friendly and helpful. Regulars are recognized (there seem to be many) and warmly welcomed.
One of the special appetizers, cannellini beans with chopped tomatoes and grilled shrimp, positively sang in its lemony dressing. The mussels were offered in marinara sauce but I asked for something lighter and was rewarded with a presentation in white wine and lemon--a little gritty but plump and overall very pleasant. The fried zucchini is crisp and greaseless; the seafood salad ap wins deserved raves and the pan fried baby artichokes taste just as they should, i.e., delicious.
Lighter eaters will be happy with the various salads, especially one with string beans, potatoes, tomatoes and red onion and the Insalata Bianca featuring endive, mushrooms, artichokes, hearts of palm and shaved Parmesan.
This reliable spot offers really nice pastas whether you opt for the rotolo, a homemade round noodle cradling a filling of spinach, ricotta and mozzarella; the tagliatelle with a rich Bolognese sauce or the farfalle, a complex, satisfying dish with ham, peas, arugula, tomatoes and slivered Parmesan. Any pasta can become a half order for an appetizer or smaller main.
Entrees include chicken breast with Italian sausage and mushrooms in a white wine sauce; branzino, nicely grilled; shrimp Fra Diavolo (described as "lightly spicy which is accurate), and grilled lamb chops with plenty of rosemary. Nothing is inventive but it all tastes good, which, in today's world of "grilled sardines with mint and honey" says a lot. There are only a few wines by the glass but they are perfectly fine and, if you plan on drinking more, there are plenty of bottles. There is also a full bar.
In keeping with the "nothing out of the ordinary, all good" approach, desserts are of the panna cotta, tiramisu, ricotta cheesecake variety and all taste fresh.
Almost everyone who eats here likes the experience--the cozy, relatively quiet space; pleasant, accommodating servers and, above all the food which rarely disappoints. Marzzulla is a neighborhood old-school, go-to spot where you can linger over coffee without feeling as though your table is vanishing beneath you. In warm weather there is outdoor seating (albeit on First Avenue); take out and catering are available. Maruzzella, which has been in business since 1988, is open every day from noon (for lunch) until eleven at night (although diners thin out somewhat as the hour approaches nine-thirty in the evening.) Major credit cards accepted. Don’t expect buzz; do come prepared for an entirely delightful dining experience.
Review By: Mari Gold