Neighborhood Gem: Bamonte's

In praise of Bamonte's, a Williamsburg survivor

Last month, Tasting Table asked readers for their favorite neighborhood gems. Now we're introducing the winning picks.

?On a not overly picturesque block of Williamsburg, there still stands a red-sauce Italian joint of the type where everyone knows everyone else and they all order the clams.

The condo-quake of hipster revitalization feels miles away. A clogged artery of the BQE passes nearly overhead–though the restaurant was here before the highway.

Homemade agnolotti, a house speciality

Anthony Bamonte's grandfather Pasquale, recently arrived from a village near Salerno, opened the place in 1900. Back then, it was called Liberty Hall but walk in now past the cigarette machines and phone booths, through veal-pink light of the bar to the wood-paneled elegance of the dining room and it's easy to believe not much has changed here or maybe anywhere. There have been modern improvements, like a trendy open kitchen.

"We added that in 1950," Anthony says. "My uncle had an idea that people should see where their food came from."

The chef enjoys his lunch | Baked clams

Bamonte's is the kind of place where the tuxedoed waiters are hesitant to ask if you want to see a menu. They don't want to offend. Even for a newcomer, the menu offers little few surprises but lots of comfort: chicken rollatini, seafood fra diavolo, rigatoni with vodka sauce.

Anthony's daughters run the operation now, fourth-generation stewards of the family business and congenial hosts to an Italian-American diaspora loyal to the restaurant long after they've moved out of the neighborhood.

"We used to stay open until 4 a.m.," Anthony said on a recent chilly afternoon.

Pasta e fagioli | Long-time waiter Julio

"All around us we had the big movie houses, the RKO, the Meserole and the Republic where they ran burlesque shows. Everyone would go out to see a show and then come here for dinner."

Today a small crew of regulars–tracksuits, trainers, backslaps–had gathered for the Thursday special of pasta e fagioli. Talking to Anthony, it was easy to picture the dining room as it once was full to capacity, the social center of a much-changed neighborhood.

"Guys used to tell me it took them twenty minutes to get from the door to their table, they knew so many people along the way."

Our other favorite Williamsburg Neighborhood Gems: Allswell, Saltie, Rye, Diner