In a time when many of the city's older stalwarts are disappearing, there's a least one Greenwich Village holdout that has no intention of fading away. In fact, Caffe Dante, which turns a ripe old 100 next year, is actually thriving and expanding, adding a new menu of hot food items to supplement the gelato and coffee program that's been going strong since the cafe's inception.
The MacDougal Street eatery—which opened in 1915 and has been run by the Flotta family since 1971—began as an afternoon or after dinner spot, where couples would linger over a cappuccino at the cafe's cute sidewalk tables or grab a scoop of something sweet after a meal down the street. Now, Mario Flotta Sr. and his sons have given the cafe a little spruce up, which included a new stand-alone bar, a more substantial outdoor seating area and a new selection of pizzas and pastas to draw in the dinner crowd.
During a recent press preview we sampled some of the new dishes, including a superlative Caesar Salad draped with briny anchovies and served with crunchy grilled bread. The dressing was salty, bright and generous, which is exactly the way this notably diet-unfriendly salad should be served. Similarly delicious were the pillowy gnocchi, served in a nutty pesto sauce with fresh tomatoes and more of that great bread.
Pizza runs in the family for the Flottas, who operated nearby Pizza Box until it closed last year to make way for mini-sandwich shop 100 Montaditos (an investor for Caffe Dante runs the franchise). Mario Sr. makes the dough each day for the thin-crust pies, which are available in classic Margarita ($9) and more highbrow toppings like the Tourist ($10) with organic grilled chicken, bechamel, mozzarella and arugula. We sampled the Meatball ($10) and appreciated the crisp crust though the meatballs could have used a bit more zing.
The new menu hasn't diminished the cafe's dedication to delicious desserts, especially their sorbetti and gelato, which are handmade daily in flavors like pistachio, hazelnut, raspberry and lemon. If anything, the changes are bringing in some fresh blood to the restaurant, like the soccer fans camped at the bar for a World Cup game and the young couples populating the outside tables on a warm summer evening. A meal here won't blow your mind but that's certainly not a put-down—sometimes some simple red sauce is exactly what we need.
79-81 MacDougal Street, 212-982-5275; website