Alba’s: true fine dining 1

The dining room at Alba Pizzeria and Ristorante in Briarwood.

Alba Pizzeria & Ristorante has been serving the community since 1962. If you have only passed it while driving or walking, you might think it is just a neighborhood pizzeria in Briarwood. What you wouldn’t realize is that just behind the grab-a-slice front part of the restaurant is a sizable fine dining area.

Sicily native Giacomo “Jack” Virdone has owned Alba for the last 40 years.

“I make sure that we only serve the best quality of beef, chicken and fish, and I make sure that we have the best ingredients as well,” he told me.

Now it would be understandable to think every restaurant owner makes that claim. Very few, however, can say they catered for a papal visit, but that was the case when Virdone was chosen to be a food provider for Pope Benedict XVI when he visited New York City in 2008.

Virdone takes pride in being an old-school restaurateur. When I asked him if he has made any changes such as adding gluten-free items to his menu he chuckled and said that people can go elsewhere if that’s what they’re looking for, and added that he hasn’t changed a single recipe in the whole time that he has been in charge.

It should be noted that you can eat very healthy at Alba as there are many salad, vegetable and fish options, including its tasty salmon which is high in omega-3 content.

Just as singers or composers are reticent to name their favorite tune, so is Virdone when it comes to naming his top-rated menu item. After some prodding he confessed to me that it’s the chicken francese. Needless to say I made it a point to order it.

I would be less than candid if I did not admit some hesitation because we’ve all had dry and tough chicken cutlets. Happily that was not the case here as the chicken pieces were, as Barbra Streisand might say, soft like “buttah,” and the white wine and lemon sauce was perfectly blended so it added to the taste without overpowering the entree.

There are plenty of appetizer choices but I highly recommend what Virdone calls “Shrimp Sinatra” — giant broiled shrimp drenched in homemade tomato sauce.

You can’t dine in Briarwood without thinking of the Flagship Diner, which closed three months ago. Virdone understands why people are upset about that and wants Chronicle readers to know that his staff can make almost any dish even if it’s not listed on the menu. “We also own our property so we are going to be around for a long time,” he told me in order to reassure anyone who is weary of all of the recent eatery closings.

A good example of a nontraditional entree for an Italian restaurant is Alba’s grilled ribeye steak. If you are someone who only orders steak at steakhouses such as Ruth’s Chris, Morton’s or Peter Luger, let me assure you that Alba’s won’t let you down.

The prices for the quality of cuisine that you get at Alba Ristorante are extremely reasonable. If you are enthralled by exceptional value, then take advantage of its $10.95 Monday through Wednesday dinner special on designated chicken and pasta dishes with salad, dessert and coffee or tea.

Another terrific deal is the Thursday and Friday $9.95 lunch buffet, which runs from noon to 3 p.m. The selections vary but on the day I visited Alba there were trays of pepper steak, roast chicken, calamari, clams, steamed vegetables and penne pasta with vodka sauce.

If you can’t get to Alba for lunch there is a Thursday evening $18.95 dinner buffet and following it couples can dance to live music. There is also dancing to live music on Saturday nights, while on Friday nights you can bust your best moves to music spun by the house DJ.

No meal is complete without enjoying one of Alba’s mouthwatering desserts such as its creamy cheesecake or tiramisu.

Being passionate about pizza is in the DNA of most New Yorkers. Which establishment serves the best is the source of endless debates in this town. I will only say that the slice that I enjoyed at Alba was the best one I’ve had in a very long time.

Alba Pizzeria & Ristorante is located at 137-65 Queens Blvd. and the phone number is (718) 291-1620.

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