We have long believed that the Northeast has the most and the finest Italian food in America. In the big cities – Boston, Providence, New York – and in lesser ones from Newark to New Haven to Northampton, you can count on there being a significant, deep-rooted Italian neighborhood that will likely include salumeria and pork stores, pastry shops and gelateria, brick-oven pizzerias, and at least one grand old family-run restaurant. In that respect, Carbone’s is the crème de la crème.
First opened in the 1930s, Carbone’s is located on Franklin Avenue, once known as Hartford’s Little Italy. It is a deluxe restaurant, especially in the evening when the dining room is lit up by the pyrotechnics of tableside presentations of everything from steak Diane to bocce ball dessert. The menu always includes such definitive Carbone’s favorites as Veal Saltimbocca and Linguine Carbonara, but also extends to more modern original dishes that are Italian-inspired, such as Chilean sea bass cooked with proscuitto and flavored with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
We are especially fond of salads, which are no mere secondary side dishes. Lunchtime Caesar salad, available topped with the kitchen’s incomparable fried calamari, is a bravura meal. Spinach salad is quickly flambéed tableside so it assumes a light glow of warmth. The best known one is Sicilian orange salad, a creation described in a 1980s nationally syndicated newspaper story as “a tableside production number, beginning vaguely like Caesar salad, but then veering away from cheese and romaine lettuce to incorporate the Sicilian citrus bounty.” Sicilian salad is well-known to regular customers, so well-known that it isn’t listed on the menu!
While the dining room is grand and romantic, the bar is clubby — a wonderful place for business lunch. Personal memorabilia from or about regular customers is posted on the wall, including caricatures of well-known patrons; and a general tone of quiet camaraderie gives the dark, comfortable room a privileged aura.
One of Connecticut’s grand old Italian restaurants since 1938 and a Roadfood favorite, Carbone’s has served the finest food to generations of discerning customers in the Insurance Capital of the World. Their specialties are top-shelf Italian dishes like marsala, saltimbocca, and piccata, though the parmigiana classics are not at all pedestrian. The Caesar or spinach salad, famously prepared and served tableside, is a real treat and a testament to a bygone era. The arancini appetizers, served with the freshest-tasting marinara sauce, are among the best we’ve eaten anywhere, and the Chicken Lacava (skewers of tender chicken bites and hot stuffed cherry peppers wrapped in bacon) is a brilliant idea that tastes like Roman manna: crispy bacon with the spicy zing of the peppers.
For entrées, the housemade gnocchi are ultra-tender and flavorful, but our favorite dish is the Veal Cuscinetto. Fork-tender veal is stuffed with prosciutto, sharp cheese, and seasoned bread crumbs, then cooked in a sherry wine sauce with lemon and topped with artichoke hearts. The flavor and texture combination is mesmerizing and easily elevates this plate to one the very best veal dishes we’ve ever had. For dessert, the chocolate torte is sinfully exquisite with a smooth cocoa finish, but the panettone bread pudding is a unique selection made with the famous Milanese holiday bread baked with candied fruit. Carbone’s is open for lunch Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; for dinner Monday through Wednesday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday 4 p.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; closed Sunday.