'My Beloved' Italian
220-20 Hillside Ave., Queens Village
Hours: 11 am-10 pm Tue-Fri; noon-10 pm Sat; 1-9 pm Sun
Credit Cards: All major
Parking: Lot in back
It is only fitting that leading up to Valentine's Day, we were tempted to go to a place named Cara Mia, which translates to "My Beloved." Truth be told, this is one of our more regular dining spots in Queens - hailing from the days when Nonna would make the meatballs by hand well into her 90s, to the way that this Hillside Avenue mainstay has offered stellar cuisine throughout the years. It's always great to come back.
We entered on a bitterly cold Saturday night, hopeful to not wait too long without a reservation. Showing up shortly after 7 p.m. we barely had a wait, though we were told 15-20 minutes.
As we were seated, our server listed through the specials, which included veal cannelloni and a handful of other tempting dishes. We chose to stick with the menu, and dove in to our order with great haste - with a 10-year-old in tow, we needed to get food on the table immediately.
Again, we didn't have long to wait. After we got our drinks but before our appetizers arrived, we were delivered a basket with pieces of flatbread and a steaming small loaf of crusty Italian bread. Sitting and snacking, we chatted as the flurry of diners and servers hustled around us. And then the appetizers arrived - Mozzarella Sticks for the kids, a Caesar Salad for the Mrs. and a big bowl of Pasta e Fagioli for me.
The sticks were gooey and served with Cara Mia's knockout marinara, the salad was very traditional - with a salty anchovy bite that my wife loved (and we all shared) - and the soup was just the right thing to help warm me up on a chilly evening. The beans were tender, the broth rich with tomato flavor and the nuttiness of the prosciutto and sweetness of the onion added layers of flavor that forbade me from putting my spoon down.
As we paused briefly between courses, our server, with her booming voice, came out and called upon the whole restaurant to wish our dining neighbor Gina a happy birthday, getting the whole place to join in song. That's typical of this place - they really make you feel like you're part of the family.
Our attention quickly turned to our entrees, which is where my daughter differs from many of her 10-year-old contemporaries. Though kids' meals are on the menu, my 10-year-old dug into the Veal Cara Mia - thin slices of tender meat sautéed and layered with eggplant in a Marsala wine sauce with mushrooms and topped with mozzarella cheese. The sweetness of the wine, the earthiness of the eggplant and mushrooms and the richness of the veal combined for a killer combination worthy of donning the restaurant's name.
My wife, who likely imagined a smaller dish, had ordered the Eggplant Parmesan and received what appeared to be the perfectly prepared contents of an entire eggplant - breaded, sautéed, covered in mozzarella and served with a fresh tomato sauce.
For me, I'm a bit of a traditionalist, so I went with the classic Veal Parmesan, served in a large, wide ramekin fresh from the oven, smothered in cheese and just as tender as the Veal Cara Mia.
Though my wife and daughter were content to take home huge portions of their meals, I could not face the idea of packing up a single morsel of this delicious dish, and it was good to the last bite.
From classic entrees to creative concoctions, Cara Mia's menu is a delight; add to that the ambiance of the location and the friendly staff, and you've got a great spot for a romantic night out, a family meal or just some place great to eat when you don't feel like cooking.
-Brian M. Rafferty