88 Charles Street
Montgomery, NY 12549
Hours: Dinner 7 Days | Lunch Monday – Friday
It had been a few years since our Wednesday Night Dining Crew last visited 88 Charles Street, which was much too long a time. The restaurant is one of our favorites, and the drive to Montgomery is really the only reason that we have not turned it into our personal clubhouse. You can read about our earlier visits here. The place has all of the requisite ingredients for making it a favorite – a great bar, a friendly professional waitstaff, and a solid kitchen. A stop at the bar is a requirement. It reminds me of the bar at Ship Lantern Inn, which is also one of the prettiest bars in the valley.
The restaurant’s proprietor, Mario Balicich, is the consummate “front of the house” guy, greeting everyone who walks in as if they are his best customer, and treating them as such. Mario is also the guy who makes the sausage, so everything that comes out of the kitchen carries his imprimatur. That is a rare combination of skills that usually makes for a good time and good meal, and that has always been our experience here.
The semi formal setting in the dining room – starched white linens on the tables and the waitstaff – belies the casual friendly service that you experience with your meal. The waitstaff seems to know everyone in the dining room, which suggests a very loyal contingent of regulars. There is a good reason for that.
The menu at 88 Charles is one that used to be described as “continental”, perhaps with an Italian accent. When we are seated at our table, a platter of antipasto immediately appears, piled high with marinated roasted peppers and eggplant, slices of sweet soppressata and pepperoni, and chunks of Grana Padano cheese – Parmigiano’s first cousin. A basket of crusty Italian bread accompanies these offerings. Truth be told, after finishing this plate, we order appetizers out of guilt, certainly not because we need to add another course. Perhaps that is Mario’s sinister plan.
The menu arrives on a blackboard, listing the daily specials. There are usually a half-dozen pasta offerings, and the kitchen is happy to prepare them as an appetizer, or as a communal pasta course for the table – which is what we did on our last visit. A plate of pappardelle, tossed with a savory ragu and sprinkled with garden peas, was more than enough for our four tablemates to have a taste before moving on to appetizers. A Caesar salad, prepared tableside, is our usual choice. The kitchen does a great job with traditional clams oreganata but on our last visit I tried a dish of “Clams Possilip” which I have come to learn was Frank Sinatra’s favorite dish. The clams are teased open in a steaming tomato based bath laced with lots of garlic, which of course, is another good use for the (second) basket of bread on the table. Additional pasta choices include fettuccini carbonara, lasagna, and spinach or cheese ravioli.
I can usually predict the entree choices for my group each week. This menu is so extensive that it makes that guessing game impossible. Chicken dishes are prepared Francese style, or as a component in the Italian classic Scarpariella with sausage, or Parmigiano, or marsala, or piccata. Shrimp and veal dishes offer similar choices, or a Francese combination platter of all of the above for those that cannot make up their mind.
A lamb shank braised in a Guinness reduction will provide more than enough for a leftover lunch the next day. Continental classics include a very nicely prepared crisp roast duckling, a roast rack of lamb, and my personal favorite – Osso Bucco Milanese.
88 Charles Street Cafe is a step back in time to a place that predates taking pictures of your meal for Facebook, and smart phones and food blogs for that matter. The menu could have been written in 1965, and that is a wonderful thing. Every once in a while you need a reminder of what “fine dining” meant when people still dressed for dinner. Here the staff still dresses up, but you don’t have to (but if you want to sip on a very proper dry martini in the bar before dinner, I can’t think of a nicer place to do it.)