Joey’s Restaurant

Joey’s Restaurant is about as East Utica as it gets, and we’re not talking location.

While the latest incarnation of this dining institution has been in place since the early ’90s, the Mohawk Street Italian joint traces its history all the way back to the 1930s, when East Utica was the epicenter of local Italian-American culture. Back then, the place went by another name, but we suspect not much has changed in the 80-plus years since.

The weather-beaten corner storefront matches the lived-in interior: scuffed up hardwood floors, white painted tin ceiling and a handsome bar that features one lonely tap. What’s on draft? Utica Club, of course. The dining space is small, but not cramped, equipped with only a dozen or so tables, each topped with a throwback vinyl checked tablecloth.

Midday on a cold afternoon is an ideal time to stop by Joey’s and warm up with a big, heaping plate of nostalgia. The lunch menu hits all the right notes: classic Italian dishes like peppers and eggs, hats with broccoli and chicken parm mix with a few salads, sandwiches and daily specials.

A big basket of flaky bread arrived first, soft inside and crispy on the outside. The loaf was topped with melted butter and seasonings. The perfect vehicle to sop up all of the sauce we were about to enjoy. A word to the wise: Ask for a second loaf, just in case.

We started off with two meatballs doused in the house sauce ($2.50). Tasting these sent me back to my childhood when I was lucky enough to be asked to stay over for dinner at my neighbor’s house. If his mom were serving meatballs, these would be it – low on filler, fall-apart-in-your-mouth tender and absolutely delicious. The sauce was well done, not too sweet and thick enough to hold up on its own.

The greens and beans ($6.50) was a titanic bowl of steaming escarole and white cannellini beans, swimming in a garlicky broth. Each forkful had plenty of texture, but was surprisingly under seasoned. It was the only dish we had that suffered from such an affliction. A few flicks of the saltshaker took care of the issue.

Our pasta fagoli ($7.25) was another herculean portion. More pasta dish than soup, the perfectly al dente cavatelli and white beans were tossed in a tomato-based broth, steeped in garlic and oregano, that went a long way towards helping me forget it was snowing outside.

This is old-school Utica. At Joey’s, you’ll get authentic Italian eats, mammoth portions and friendly service. This isn’t a suit-and-tie spot, but a place to gather with friends and family, break bread and bust chops.

Joey’s Restaurant doesn’t put on airs, doesn’t need to. It delivers home-cooked Italian classics that stick to your ribs (and might even require an extra exercise session or two). It also pays homage to Utica’s heyday – a time when neighborhood eateries defined a city landscape.

Nearly nine decades after it initially opened, Joey’s is still able to dish it out in glorious East Utica-style – including the easy-on-the-wallet price: Lunch for two came to $16.25 (without tax and tip).

If you go: Joey’s Restaurant

Address: 815 Mohawk St., Utica

Phone: 724–9769

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

Details: Eat in or take out. All major credit cards accepted.
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By Dan Sher

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