The logo for Pal's is a cartoon of two smiling men in high-collar period suits. It's a friendly, family restaurant that has been around for a long time — since 1933, in fact. Point that out, imply that people will be fed and treated like they're at their mama's table, and you'd better deliver. Insult mamas at your peril.
The sprawling space with lots of booths is as informal as a bowling alley, but with white tablecloths and cloth napkins. The bar is in a separate area, so your conversation isn't interrupted by the uproar when the Sox make them happy.
Pal's is mainly an Italian restaurant, but sprinkled throughout its offerings are the occasional opportunity for the diner who walked into the wrong place: baby back BBQ ribs and baked ham, chicken fingers and fish and chips.
I knew I was in the right place when I noticed two items on the menu that I had recently been complaining about not finding. No kidding. Among the 20 seafood dishes was a lobster sauté ($19.99) in a butter and wine sauce. I love lobster but rarely order it, because I think if I'm paying them that they should do the work. And then there was baby beef liver and onions ($11.99), cooked in its own gravy. My own mama cooked liver to resemble a slice of footwear, but when my wife demonstrated how it could be prepared, pink at the center, I fell in love with the dish.
Scanning the two-dozen-plus appetizers, other off-the-beaten-menu items popped up: tripe and fried smelts, both $7.99. I enjoy the former, but rarely encounter the latter, so smelts it was. They were perfect. The thin herbed and seasoned coating was minimal and flavorful, and the sardine-size fish were accompanied by a ridiculously generous amount of sliced olives — flavorful olives, not just those canned wastes-of-time. Tart pepper rings accented the fish.
I asked our waitress about the soup of the day ($3.95/$4.95) and she reeled off several, including butternut squash and white New England clam chowder. To stick with their ethnic forte, I picked pasta fagioli. It was not a mistake. Dense with large tubettini pasta and beans, the broth was so hearty it seemed fortified with beef stock; mmmm, liquid pintos.
Good start. We didn't want to overlook anything, so before delving further into the regular menu, we checked out the separate lunch menu, the "Homestyle Specials," and "Ronny's Specials." Ronny Ware, the chef/proprietor since 1995, lists more than a dozen dishes. Some of them sound like they're being trotted out to test their popularity, such as the Parmesan-encrusted tilapia and the roast pork with pear sauce. Others seem like they'd be popular every day, like the vegetable lasagna and the baked seafood pie with shrimp, scallops, fish and lobster.
We weren't disappointed, though, ordering from the regular menu. A seafood and a pasta, we agreed, would be a good test of the place. That unshelled lobster that appealed to me was too simple. The swordfish mixed grill, with lobster and shrimp, sounded interesting. Ah-hah! Seafood pescatore ($16.99), in a red or white sauce. I like linguine with clam sauce — white, not red, so the clams are complemented rather than competed with — but it's so predictable. The seafood pescatore, however, for just three bucks more, is linguine with clam sauce that's throwing a raucous party. The invited friends were numerous. Four shrimp, tails considerately off, a couple of littleneck clams, and scads and scads of tender baby scallops. Wonderful.