I remember going to Cornell’s a few times in my younger days when it was up on Van Vranken Ave. My memory was of excellent food in a homey atmosphere.
In the last decade, Cornell’s relocated to N. Jay St. where it became the crown jewel in the new “Little Italy” section of downtown Schenectady. I had eaten there 2 or 3 times with my gang of cousins, thoroughly enjoying my meals, but it had been at least 2 years since we had gotten together there.
One summer evening, having a 7:00 meeting downtown, I decided to pop in for an early dinner.
The building that houses Cornell’s looks as though it was transported straight from the Mediterranean. A light terracotta stucco, trimmed in emerald green with an ample parking lot in the back.
Through the windowed front doors, you enter a foyer and go up a carpeted ramp to the hostess station. A series of large dining rooms is to the left and to the right is the bar area and a smaller dining area with 8 tables which overlooks Jay St. through large windows.
The bar is a mahogany wood affair, seating about 10, with comfortable looking stools and a handsome and affable bartender. Although the bar area was separated from the front dining area only by a low wall and got full as people came in waiting for their tables, I never felt that it intruded on the front tables.
In all the little details, I felt an atmosphere of elegance throughout Cornell’s. Lush pile carpeting, dark wood, art work depicting scenes of Italy, linen napkins and fresh grated cheese in a silver bowl on the table and Italian music playing in the background added to my enjoyment. The chairs were comfortable and sturdy. This is the type of restaurant where you could wear a suit and tie or a cocktail dress and feel comfortable though most people were in what is referred to as “resort casual”. I did see jeans and t-shirts.
I perused the menu as I munched on wonderful Perreca’s bread and fresh butter.
Appetizers range from $4 for a cup of soup to $12 for a hot antipasto with clams, shrimp, peppers, artichoke hearts, eggplant, mushrooms and mozzarella in a marinara sauce.
Pastas go for $16 for marinara or olio e aglio , $20 linguini with clam sauce, $23 for Shrimp Buongusto and $18 for house special “Chicken Liver Caruso”, sautéed chicken livers, mushrooms and onions in a sherry wine sauce with marinara, served over linguine. My father loves this dish.
Veal is served in all the traditional preparations, marsala, picatta, francaise, parmigiana, Milanese, and saltimbocca ($21 – $24)
You can have your chicken cacciatore ($20) or a special roast “Chicken in the Oven” which is half a baked chicken with potatoes, cherry peppers, rosemary and olive oil. The menu says it takes 45 minutes to prepare, but is well worth the wait.
There is also a selection of shrimp dishes ($23) and haddock or sole for fish lovers.($19)
A 16 oz. NY strip steak can be served broiled ($24), pizziaolo ($25) or stuffed with shrimp ($28).
All dinners come with a garden salad and you choice of either pasta or potato and vegetable.
It happened that on the night I chose, Cornell’s was offering a 3 course, prix-fix menu for $18.64. It had something to do with Travers Week.
As an appetizer, I chose the calamari marinara. Large rings of tender calamari – no tentacles here – were sautéed in a rich marinara sauce with slices of onion and big pieces of mushrooms. I could taste the sea in the calamari. It was outstanding. The portion size could almost have been a dinner by itself.
All entrees were served with salad so next I received a plate of crisp romaine lettuce, cukes, sliced, fresh summer tomatoes (YUM!), shredded carrots and black olives with a light Italian dressing.
There was a special veal entrée that night called Veal Cornell. Two large veal cutlets in a crisp batter were layered with eggplant and roasted red peppers, covered in a rich marinara sauce and finished with a restrained topping of mozzarella cheese. “OUT OF THIS WORLD”
Entrees came with pasta or potato and veggie. I opted for the green beans – bright, crisp, fresh from the farmer’s market, sautéed in a little olive oil and fingerling potatoes – small, tender delights with thin slices of shallots. Simple and Perfect.
Yes, there was dessert included. I ended my meal with a moist, chocolate and vanilla layer cake, topped with whipped cream and chocolate drizzle and a terrific cup of coffee.
The service. Throughout my dining experience, both my waitress, Karen, and the lady who bussed my table, brought me water and wrapped my leftovers (no I couldn’t finish my entrée) were pleasant, friendly and efficient.
I had a wonderful time and a fabulously delicious meal. My bill for all of the above including tax came to – are you ready for this – $22.29!!! OK, it was a prix-fix.
On my way out, as I was telling the hostess what a great meal I had, she told me that they
Had to serve smaller portions because of the low price of the prix-fix. I can’t imagine how big the usual portions must be because I had more than enough food and was thrilled the next day when I had the leftover Veal Cornell for supper.
I will definitely be back soon. I’m dying to try the “Chicken In The Oven”
39-45 North Jay St. Schenectady 518-370-3825
Open: Tues – Thu 5-9 pm, Fri & Sat 5-10 pm, Sun 4-9 pm