I consider jury duty the carbuncle on the backside of my life. I’ve wriggled and wrangled and just plain lied to get out of it. This time, however, there was no stalling; I had to show up. My service was blessedly brief, consisting mainly of long waits on hard benches and televisions blaring items about how happy my civic duty was making me. The only upside was discovering Montague Street. While the first block is one of Brooklyn’s banking hubs, the second looks like the main drag of a small town. A tiny flower shop brightens the street, while boutiques offer clothing and chotchkes; even the supermarket and the national chains seem human scale. But the bucolic pace changes each weekday from noon till mid afternoon, when the courts disgorge bureaucrats and their peers, all in search of a quick lunch.
Mercifully, my term in the halls of justice only afforded me the time for one lunch, but it piqued my curiosity, and soon I was back to play restaurant beat-the-clock in anticipation of future sentences. My challenge: find a formal establishment where I could complete a full meal with wine in 45 minutes. Discounting the Indian buffet place and the recommended sushi bar as too easy, I selected Armando Ristorante, a clubby Italian eatery that’s been around since 1936. Dark quartersawn wainscoting, vintage photographs of movie stars past, crisp white tablecloths, and deal-cutting booths were the lures. Vases of fragrant lilies and a full bar complete with smokers’ table also helped.
My waitress, Catherine, didn’t flinch when I told her I had to be out in 45 minutes. No problem, she’d be my timekeeper. My order for hard-to-find bay scallops ($15.95) was duly taken, and I’d only tasted the house chianti when the first course appeared. The steaming-hot bowl of minestrone ($3.75), rich with diced zucchini, carrot, onion, white beans, and pasta, would have been enough for a light meal along with a few pieces of the sesame-dotted country bread. Power brokers gathered as I sipped and supped, and Catherine soon reappeared with the salad and inquired if she should request the main order. I nibbled on the usual iceberg and cukes, set off here by an oregano-laced vinaigrette. I’d been skeptical about the scallops, but they convinced me when they arrived: teensy nubbins of sweetness lightly battered, tenderly cooked, and sitting in a puddle of lemon butter faintly scented with garlic. Catherine reappeared again to check my pace and to see if I needed anything. I settled for coffee, which came with a bracing jolt of anisette ($2.75). The pendulum clock was striking the exact minute as the check was presented.
Armando’s was too good to be relegated to beat-the-clock, so I was back in the evening for a more leisurely repast. An order of fried zucchini shoestrings with a thick anchovy dipping sauce was crisp outside yet unctuously toothsome ($5.50). The carpaccio di manzo ($9.95), translucent thin slices of tenderloin atop crisp arugula with parmesan shavings, was textbook perfect. Two thick pork chops piazziola ($12.95), topped with a memorable tomato sauce dense with onion, mushrooms, and roasted garlic, were hearty and robust if a bit overcooked. Classic zabaglione and strawberries ($5) completed the day’s cholesterol and contributed to my well-rounded satiety. Play beat-the-clock if you must, but nothing beats leisure at table.