CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Many times when I write a glowing review about a new restaurant in town, there's some kind of qualifier about the food attached.
"For a sports bar," it's great. "For a simple sandwich shop," you'll love it.
But there's no such caveat here. When it comes to food quality, Paterno's at the Park is easily one of the best restaurants in town. Period.
Service has been a bit spotty, and the space inside Appalachian Power Park is noisy as heck. (Noise-reducing acoustic ceiling panels have been ordered and will soon alleviate that problem.)
The food, however, is truly outstanding.
Although it was before my time here in Charleston, those in the culinary know may remember the highly regarded Paterno's Little Italian Seafood Inn down in South Charleston back in the 1970s.
Legend has it, longtime newspaper critic Delmar Robinson stopped in Andy and Mary Jo Paterno's place when it first opened and immediately declared it one of the Top 10 restaurants in the state.
It's the same Paterno family here, and it looks like history does repeat itself. Different critic, but very similar declaration. It's Top 5 in the city for sure. Top 10 in the state? Time will tell.
Check out the Daily Mail's feature article on the Paterno family: http://www.dailymail.com/foodandliving/201211270153?page=2&.
I've popped in for lunch twice, and we invited two other couples along for a big dinner there one night. Every bite has been praise-worthy.
Paterno's moved into the space once occupied by Power Alley Grill and, most recently, Quaker Steak & Lube. The bones of the place are the same, but it's definitely been fancied up a bit. Freshly painted walls (love the rich tones!), new decor, softer lighting and crisp white linens offer a warmer, more intimate feel, yet still pair well with the brick walls and exposed ductwork that remains.
It's got a cool, urban vibe for sure.
With that energy comes lots of noise, but you get used to it after a while. And once your food arrives, nothing will take your attention from it.
A fantastic menu features classic Italian dishes prepared from Paterno family recipes, along with a few new creations from executive chef Brent Pauley, formerly with Edgewood Country Club.
But first things first.
Any new restaurant in town inevitably invites comparisons to similar spots, and I've already been asked several times how Paterno's stacks up against Fazio's and Soho's.
The answer: Extremely well.
I love all three places and each has a unique appeal. Fazio's offers Old World Italian, and Soho's puts a contemporary spin on Northern Italian cuisine.
Paterno's blends both, but with an emphasis on traditional Italian specialties elevated by elegant presentations.