Ernie Patti was looking for a friendly but upscale Italian restaurant where he’d want to stop every night. So he opened his own.
The former nightclub owner (G Willickers, Flix) is on hand nearly every evening to greet guests at 6-month-old Ernie’s Italian Chophouse in Lighthouse Point. He sets the tone for the attentive staff serving classics like the Sunday gravy feast and gargantuan veal chops in the 165-seat venue.
A dark lounge area bathed in soft blue lights is set at the entrance of the contemporary, minimalist space. Silver vases and frosted window treatments brighten the sparsely decorated dining room. Dark wood floors and large leather banquettes lend warmth — as, of course, does the food. If Italian cooking doesn’t make you feel sunny, something’s wrong
The son of Sicilian and Neapolitan immigrants, Patti serves dishes he watched his mama make growing up in Brooklyn. Chef Gary Wood, whose resume includes 32 East in Delray Beach, Tra Vigne in the Napa Valley and Max’s Grille in Boca Raton, adds his own flair to items like grilled Spanish octopus with limoncello vinaigrette and a special of fresh halibut on a bed of bulgur lentils.
Nearly everything is made in-house, even the house-cured olives served at the outset with warm Italian bread to savor while you pick a wine. Sommelier Alfie Alvarado is happy to answer questions about the list, which includes 13 by-the-glass options like a soft, fruity Querceto Chianti Classico ($10) and a Zenato Pinot Grigio ($15).
This is a good place to share a selection of appetizers and small plates like our fennel-scented Chivalini sausage stuffed with provolone and served with broccoli rabe sautéed with olive oil and garlic.
A wedge of cool, crisp iceberg is drizzled with rich Gorgonzola sauce. A hearty wild mushroom soup du jour is an intense blend of roasted shiitake, cremini and oyster varieties with more than a hint of sherry and beech mushrooms for a garnish.
Pastas include squid-ink black fettuccini, spaghetti All‘Amatriciana with guanciale (dried pork cheek) and our favorite, four silky, house-made ravioli with a wild mushroom filling, a bit of ricotta and a light, sweet tomato sauce. (Ravioli choices vary.)
We came back for the Sunday gravy dinner, which could easily feed two to four. You get two plates, one loaded with huge paccheri pasta (more than double the size of rigatoni) with an ice cream-size scoop of ricotta. The other is filled with delicious meatballs (mama’s recipe, made with veal for lightness), slow-cooked spareribs, fat chunks of Italian sausage and Sicilian-style braciola (beef rolled around a hard-cooked egg), all smothered in “gravy” made with San Marzano tomatoes.
Ernie’s steaks, aged 21 days, include a 9-ounce filet mignon, 14-ounce New York strip and 14-ounce rib-eye, served a la carte with a grilled lemon, roasted fresh garlic and a sprig of rosemary. Even a modest 10-ounce skirt steak was tender and well-seasoned, though it could have been warmer.
Our family-style sides of slightly charred Brussels sprouts and ultra creamy mac and cheese with cava Elli and fontina were a treat, but you’ll want to save room for dessert.
There’s a terrific ricotta cheesecake and traditional cannoli shells filled with ricotta and chocolate chips. Pair one with a tawny port and you’ll leave feeling fat and happy.