Garlic Bread. Photo by Ryan Leeds

It seemed like a good idea in March. When the country faced lockdown and dining at our favorite restaurants was no longer an option, many of us took to the kitchen. We committed ourselves to finally learning how to cook and bake instead of using our oven as a storage unit. But summer is here now and only a masochist will spend time layering a pan of pasta into the stove.

Lucky for us, Shelly Fireman doesn’t mind. Since last month, he’s been putting smiles on the faces of Upper West Siders since he re-opened Café Fiorello, one of his five New York establishments. (He also owns two in Maryland).  Of course it isn’t open for indoor dining, but Fiorello has a spacious sidewalk across from Lincoln Center that is ideal for date night, business lunches, or just as a self-reward for enduring the first part of 2020.

Recently, Manhattan Digest visited the beloved institution for dinner and indulged in their summer menu.

The most buzzed about item before I even arrived was the onion soup appetizer, which completely defies the notion of soup by being served on a plate. A layer of bread serves as the base, topped by oodles of caramelized onions and gooey gruyere broiled with flecks of toasted cheese.  The French may have invented onion soup, but this heavenly dish is sure to be their object of envy.

Onion Soup. Photo by Ryan Leeds

Garlic bread is a staple in most Italian joints, but the homemade loaf at Fiorello’s is an art form. Instead of sopping in dense garlic and butter, this is delicate, airy and light as a feather while at the same time still retaining a robust flavor.

Pesto is also reimagined with their thin-crust avocado pizza. Instead of basil, avocado is used to smother the handmade dough which rests beneath fresh slices of avocado, pickled red onions, and toasted pine nuts. (Pro tip: don’t save this one for leftovers unless you want to stare at a brown swamp pie the next day. Trust me it’s not visually appealing).  For the more carnivorous, Fiorello’s offers a broad selection of meat-based options.

Avocado Pizza. Photo by Ryan Leeds

Standard pasta selections-with both whole wheat and gluten options-abound. The Penne Shrimp Diavalo was a particular winner during our visit.   So was the lasagna, a house specialty large enough to feed a small village. Short rib meatballs and ricotta cheese dominate the open-faced dish as they float above a rich and savory Bolognese sauce enrobed in handmade lasagna noodles.

Waiter Jahid, along with Jerry, one of the restaurant’s managers, ensured a stellar dining experience. Preemptively, we were moved to a safer table before the skies dumped a quick torrent of rain upon us.

Two days later, I was back at Café Fiorello’s. This time for lunch—and for lighter options. This time, my guest and I shared five antipastos from their vegetable antipasto bar, a perfect choice for lighter eaters or for vegetarians. After bragging about the onion soup, we had to order that too.  Did lightning strike twice? Absolutely.

I have a strong premonition that Fiorello’s will be a regular destination this summer. I’m determined to have a summer body, even if it does take \ the shape of a short rib meatball.

Cafe Fiorello is open daily from 12 PM-9PM. 1900 Broadway at 63rd Street. Phone: (212) 595-5330

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