Gangster’s Paradise

“I don’t know nothing about the restaurant business. Nothing. All I know is how to sit down and order,” says Paul Cicero, a high-ranking mafioso, before taking a draw from his cigar. Despite the objection, his underlings convince him to become a partner in the Bamboo Lounge. Cicero is right—he doesn’t know anything about restaurants, and it isn’t long before his investment is on fire, burning for the insurance money.

You can watch the doomed restaurant smolder from the comfort of your seat in the Italian restaurant Goodfellas, which is much better managed than Cicero’s joint in the classic gangster movie the restaurant is named for. Goodfellas (1990), with its mania-prone narrator Henry Hill, charts the lives of mafia men who appreciate the finer things in life—you know, like top-shelf liquor and shallow graves.

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Goodfellas the eatery is so enraptured with its namesake that the film plays on loop in the dining room, on big-screen TVs that hang beside signed movie posters from other genre classics like The Godfather and Scarface. If, while eating the restaurant’s classic Italian fare, you want to see someone get stabbed in the trunk of a car, cook a steak in a prison cell or be pistol-whipped in their own driveway, Goodfellas is the only game in town.

My dinner companion and I both ordered off the Ladies Night menu, a special prix fixe assortment ($28.95 for three courses) available on Wednesday nights. We started with the Fried Calamari and the Eggplant Rollatini. The calamari batter was light and crisp—a close cousin to tempura—and the squid was served with a red pepper marinara sauce. The eggplant starter was tender and filled with pillowy, fresh ricotta.

But they felt a bit perfunctory. More impressive were the main dishes. We tried the Beef Tenderloin, which our waiter described as the restaurant’s signature item. A thick, medium rare steak layered with a meaty portabella slice, topped with a large buttered shrimp swimming in a gorgonzola sauce and served in the shadow of a mountain of mashed potatoes, it was gangster food at its best—macho, classic and extravagant enough to be a touch absurd.

We also tried the Beggar’s Purse pasta entrée, a vegetarian offering that served as an ideal foil to the tenderloin dish. The little pastas held slices of tender pear mixed with Parmesan and ricotta, all floating in a brown butter broth with silvery fried sage leaves. It was surprisingly sweet and rich, and the broth was good enough to go back in with a slice of bread after the purses had disappeared.

We finished with the Crème Brulee and the Tiramisu. Beneath the brittle sugar shell, the custard was lightened with lemon, while the cake was a decadent square of coffee and cream. My dinner companion and I were outpaced by the meal—the portions at Ladies Night are generous despite the discounted price—which ended with complimentary champagne. As we sipped our digestifs, we watched Henry Hill cook his signature red sauce while in the grip of a paranoid cocaine binge, his eyes bulging like boiled eggs.

The mood of Goodfellas is unique—an unusual combination of campy fandom and fine dining. The atmosphere might seem uneven if it weren’t such an encapsulation of the gangster culture it reveres, which swings wildly from high-class to hyper-tacky and back again, laughing all the way. It’s a place where average shnooks and wiseguys alike can come and break bread.

Goodfellas Restaurant
702 State St, New Haven (map)
Mon-Thurs 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm, Sun 1-10pm
(203) 785-8722

Written by Sorrel Westbrook. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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Sorrel is a California transplant to New Haven. She studied English at Harvard and fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She spends her free time among her house rabbits and houseplants, looking at maps of Death Valley. She loves New England for its red brick and rainstorms and will travel great distances in pursuit of lighthouses and loud music.

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