Irene LoRe and Pat Kelly started in the
restaurant business 20 years ago, with their original Aunt Suzie’s
Suzie was LoRe’s mother, and she credits her mom for many of the recipes used at their current location of 14 years, which goes by the same name, on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
"Hers was real southern-Italian home-style cooking," says LoRe. "That’s with real meat sauce, not Bolognese with cream or milk, but the true southern-Italian style, just meat and seasonings, cooked for ages." LoRe’s father was Sicilian, and the menu reflects that influence as well.
"Sicilian cuisine hints of the years of Moorish occupation there," said LoRe. "There’s more sweet and sour, and a lot of cooking with oranges."
Like the menu, the decor at Aunt Suzie’s is homespun Italian. The large rectangular room has pink stucco walls, a high brown ceiling and black-and-white family portraits in gold frames all around - wedding pictures, school pictures, family portraits, individual portraits, baby pictures.
"Those are all the real McCoy," LoRe proudly says. "They’re all of my family, though you can see, I’m the cutest!" It feels like so many vibrant restaurants in so many sunny southern Italian villages.
The place is alive with diners of all ages. One might almost imagine it to be an extended Italian family gathering as children peek around chairs, and grandparents cajole babies on their laps.
"With the influx of students in town," LoRe explains, "we keep getting a younger and younger crowd. There are older people and families starting at 6:30 or 7 o’clock, the middle-aged crowd at around 8, and the young people between 9:30 and 10 o’clock." One needs to get there early or be prepared to wait for a table as Aunt Suzie’s doesn’t accept reservations.
The main menu is extensive - soups, hot "Auntie Pasta," cold "Auntie Pasta," salads and veggies, seafood salads, pastas and fancy pastas. These are mainly tried and true selections - fresh mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes, creamed spinach Italiano, pasta marinara, baked ziti, cheese manicotti, chicken piccata, eggplant parmigiana, zuppa di mussels, and mixed grilled seafood with roasted red pepper pesto - all served with salad or pasta marinara.
The hot antipasti were delicious, and portions were plentiful. (For $11.90 you can order a sampling of all eight, as an appetizer, which feeds four to five people.) Most worth mentioning: the baked clams, which were both garlicky and tender, and the rolled eggplant, which was smooth and subtle, with lots of good Parmesan.
The cold antipasti (again, we had the sampling of all eight) were much less memorable. There was a telltale hint of jarred peppers and artichoke hearts and canned anchovies, though the homemade mozzarella stood out as fresh and fine, and the eggplant caponata (the Sicilian salad comprised of eggplant, onions, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, pine nuts, capers and vinegar) was both spicy and crunchy with a good melding of flavors.
In our ordering of main courses, we found the house specials to be far more interesting than the other menu selections. The Aunt Suzie’s chicken, for instance - chicken sauteed with brandy, orange slices and rosemary - was delightful. The orange flavor was pushed to the next level by the brandy, and the rosemary accent was just right where often the use of that herb is too heavy and unsubtle.
The chicken vagabond, with onions, mushrooms, prosciutto and mozzarella in Marsala sauce was also noteworthy - rich and tender with a good balance of flavors.
We were much less pleased with the mixed seafood grill, the beef rolled with vegetables and raisins and cooked in tomato sauce, and the veal piccata, all of which were under-spiced and overcooked.
Desserts (predictably - cannoli, "tirami Aunt Sue," Italian ricotta cheesecake and chocolate mousse) tended to be too sweet and rich with a sickly hint of Cool Whip.
Aunt Suzie’s is a great place for a large gathering. The prices are very reasonable (hors d’oeuvres from $2 to $12, main courses from $8 to $15, desserts from $3 to $5) and there is even a "really cheap menu" with entrees from $8 to $11 all served with salad or pasta marinara.
You probably wouldn’t want to go to Aunt Suzie’s for a romantic date as the atmosphere is more family oriented and loud. LoRe’s enthusiasm for family and food is palpable throughout her restaurant and, clearly, the neighborhood appreciates what she has to offer.
Aunt Suzie’s is located at 247 Fifth Ave. between Carroll Street and Garfield Place. Aunt Suzie’s accepts MasterCard and Visa. For more information call (718) 788-AUNT. Entrees: $8 to $15. "Really cheap menu" entrees: $8 to $11.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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