9.08.2014

The Divine Caprese Artist

It is worth noting that Michelangelo, consummate Renaissance man and one of the best known and most revered artists of all time, painter of the Systine Chapel, architect of St Peter's Basilica, and sculptor of the David, was born in Caprese. Caprese is the Italian word for the sublime tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella salad - a work of art of the culinary variety. And that is how I deposit you, my Hungries, upon the doorstep of Michelangelo's Pizzeria and Ristorante, in Binghamton.


Like the prolific artist, restaurant owner Angelo is passionate about his craft, and seems to always be on site, always working the room. He greets every table, and it's evident that his concern over every customer's satisfaction is genuine. You know what else is real deal? The buttery, crisp, heavenly garlic knots gracing every table. They may not be cherub-winged or carved out of marble, but these doughy, warm, pungent rolls are absolutely a work of art.


It's becoming a rarity to have salad included with your meal. Thankfully, our Italian eateries are still largely carrying on the tradition, and while Michelangelo's is iceberg, based, it's enormous for a complimentary salad, and the blue cheese I requested to top mine was plentiful. The house Italian dressing was a bit acidic for me - a hint of sweetness would have tempered the harshness of the vinegar nicely, 
but I liked it. 

Here's a personal rule I have about eating in old school Italian restaurants, which abound in Upstate New York. I'll share it with you because we've been through so much, and I love y'all more than my luggage. If braciole is on the menu, you order it. Braciole is a peasant dish from old country Italy. Chances are, if it's on the menu, the recipe came from someone's nonna, who had very little meat, and even that was a cheap, tough cut. But she wanted to feed her family well. So she pounded the meat thin as can be, sprinkled it with herbs, a little bit of pungent, grated cheese, maybe a scrap or two of prosciutto if times were a little better, greens if they were leaner, and she rolled and braised that meat until her gravy was flavored with it, and the beef bundles were tenderized by the acid from the tomatoes and as delicious as a prime cut. Michelangelo's braciole is simply epic, you guys. It just is. Every important flavor of this dish was popping: garlic, salty cheese, savory, slightly tannic tomato, and mellow beef that gave a fair share of flavor to the sauce but saved plenty for itself. This was homey, comforting, classic, and sumptuous. Pictures of braciole are never as glorious as the taste, but behold nonetheless:

Big Hungry Melinda loves Michelangelo's and joined me for dinner, and chicken Parmesan was her bag on this particular evening. This was another classic prep, with a pounded chicken cutlet breaded and panfried, topped with bubbly, browned mozzarella, then smothered in gorgeous marinara. The difference here is that this chicken actually tasted like chicken! It was well seasoned, expertly fried, and slathered in the perfect amount of broiled cheese. Your kids would love this dish, and with portions this big, two of them can split one entree.

As if everything we've already reviewed wasn't yummy enough, the hits just keep on coming - because at Michelangelo's, you can get whatever sauce you want on your pasta side. I chose pesto, which was mild and tempered with a generous splash of cream. I liked it quite a but, but it didn't knock my socks off. I think maybe some fresh basil sprinkled on top would have helped.

Melinda chose the vodka sauce, which had a nice, round flavor. Not too piquant nor branded out with too much cream. It wasn't overly sweet, either. I got savory and creamy from it, and give it a thumbs up. Naturally, the pasta was toothsome and gorgeous. As God intended. 

On a down note, the majority of the desserts at Michelangelo's are commercial, processed, frozen products. I'm not down with that, as you know. But the cannoli and tiramisu are made in house, so Melinda and I split an order of the latter. It was boozier and less creamy than your run of the mill ladyfinger and mascarpone affair, with a heavier hand on the cakey ladies and their Kahlua baths. Different and delectable if you don't mind a good dose of liquor in your sweet.


Like the artist Michelangelo, this restaurant is a classic example of the iconic ingredients that make Italy one of the most favored foreign cultures in our country. You have a passionate proprietor pressing the flesh and minding his store, authentic recipes guiding the kitchen, and a welcoming, homey ambiance. It's the perfect place to bring the family for ethnic food that's completely comforting and familiar. I award Michelangelo's Ristorante a seven on the BHS scale - above average, relaxing, delicious, and fun, but not setting the world on fire perhaps in the way of its namesake Renaissance man. But then again, while he may have mastered the frescoe, that dude never made me a tasty plate of perfect braciole. Who does he think he is, anyway? What have you done for me lately, Mike? My personality is big, my hunger is bigger! 
Michelangelo Pizzeria & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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