While en route to Ireland with her boyfriend, my sister had a six-hour layover at JFK. So naturally I swooped in to save the day, picking her and Sean up and thus saving them from the terrible airport food offered in the Delta Terminal. With the boyfriend in tow (for the record he drove and took time out of his busy schedule to meet my sister for the first time), we braved the drive out to the airport during rush hour and headed to Don Peppe, the Italian restaurant of legend in Ozone Park (and a mere five-minute drive from JFK).
Italian food in New York is king and we went to Queens to check out this old-school favorite. I didn’t know much about Don Peppe but I was told to expect a few things….and you should know them too. 1) it’s cash only 2) they don’t take reservations and 3) there is no bar to 4) the food is served family style and 5) there are no menus, just a large blackboard at the back wall to choose your meal.
Luckily we encountered no wait (we ate like grandmas and went at 5pm) and were told to sit wherever we wanted. The room and the building is really nothing special, in fact the dark and drab building looks like a strip club along the New Jersey turnpike and the large dining room is only slightly better. It’s all about the food at Don Peppe with its dated shiny wall paper, scattered tables and lackluster wall art. But again, you are here for the food and I implore you to turn a blind eye to the atmosphere.
Soon after siting down our waiter, wearing a white shirt with necktie and black pants, took our order and set us off on a journey into old-school Italian fare. But with David’s dining restrictions (the whole gluten-free thing) we had to tread lightly. But this being Italian food, he had little options and in the end he understood that he couldn’t eat everything and didn’t want to deny us the opportunity to taste anything and everything we wanted. For the record I accommodate him in every way every time we dine out so…ya I didn’t feel bad on this one! We promptly ordered a bottle of white wine (heads up there is no wine list…. just red or white wine) and it quickly came to us in an unmarked bottle chilled to perfection.
With ordering left to me, I cast aside the recommendations of everyone and forgoed an order of their famous baked clams (next time I swear I will get these) and went with the largest antipasto platter I had seen, linguine with clams in a white sauce, braised veal with breaded eggplant and chicken with a lemon and garlic sauce. Dessert came later when I realized I couldn’t come here and not order a cannoli and tartufo to finish up the foodfest.
An antipasto plate to satisfy every single one of us; a huge mound of roasted red peppers, iceberg lettuce, red onions, olives, salamis, cheeses and sardines slathered with oil and vinegar…it was delightful. Had I ordered the baked clams I would have not been able to get through the rest of my meal….so I would like to think the culinary Gods who rewarded my blatant refusal to order the best item on the menu with a fantastic antipasto salad to remember for years to come. I ate more than my fair share of this dish and had to remember that we had more food to come.
*Linguine with White Clam Sauce*
The best linguine with clam sauce I have ever had been made for me by my college roommate’s mother in Chappaqua New York back in 2003 and to this day nothing had ever come close to its greatness….until now. Now Mrs. Santore can lay claim to the best home-made linguine with clams but Don Peppe has the best restaurant version. This was stellar, a plate the size of my midsection that was filled with perfectly golden brown cloves of garlic and dozens of juicy diced clams all dressed up in an al dente plate of linguine. I was in heaven…. and this dish was a thing of beauty. And to top it all off our waiter skillfully served each of us which you have to admit is always a nice little touch.
*Veal with Breaded Eggplant*
Another stellar stand-out… braised veal with a breaded eggplant that reminded me of a veggie egg foo young. A rich brown sauce slathered the plate and we all (David could eat the veal but not the eggplant) went to town…. being the wonderful older sister that I am, when we came down to the last bite I cut it in half and shared with Mallory 🙂
*Chicken with a Lemon Butter Sauce*
I tend to shy away from ordering chicken while at a restaurant but I made a concession at Don Peppe. The thin cutlets laid side by side swimming in a ridiculous butter and lemon sauce and I wanted to sop up every last bit with bread but we shooed the bread away as soon as the antipasto plate hit our table (the bread basket is nothing to rave about).
Forgettable, but I could not go to an Italian joint and not try their cannoli. I had a bite and cast it aside as the tartufo hit the table. By the way, if anyone knows a good cannoli… I am on the hunt!
David’s pick…. and may I say.. what a wise decision he made! Dare I say this was my first as well? I now want to try to make one for myself at home! The only problem we encountered with this was that the four of us had to share this decadent chocolate covered ice cream ball that was the size of my fist! Luckily Mallory didn’t finish hers, so I promptly swept in and devoured her last bites!
Italian food has never been my go-to cuisine but if all Italian food tasted as good as Don Peppe then it would sprint straight to the top of the list. For those in the city rent a car, ride a bike do whatever you have to do to get here. And if you find yourself stranded at JFK for a few hours, make a beeline for the taxi stand and enjoy a quick five-minute car ride to discover authentic Italian food in NYC.
I am tempted to hire a party bus and venture to Don Peppe for my 28th birthday celebration (the other idea I am floating around is Rasputin in Brighton Beach)! Don Peppe is perfect for those who wanna have a great meal and great time. Next time I will make sure to wear my stretchy pants….. the car ride out to Southampton soon after dinner was not ideal after stuffing my face!
13558 Lefferts Blvd (Ozone Park) *Queens