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If, by some mischance, you're stuck in the small city of Binghamton, New York, and you're at your wit's end, surrounded by slack-jawed yokels and wondering if there's any grub to be had in this town that doesn't taste like re-heated cardboard, you may want to know about this place.

The Grotta Azzura is owned and operated by the Mazzamuto family-- Joe, Rosa, and Joseph. Joe and Rosa came from Sicily, near Palermo, by way of Brooklyn and a few other stops along the way, and opened the Grotta Azzura in 1982.

They're currently celebrating their 21st anniversary with spaghetti-and-meatball all you can eat buffets every couple of Sundays. They did this for the 20th anniversary, and it seems they intend to continue with the odd-numbered years as well.

Dinner prices begin at about $5, and almost everything is under $10. The Grotta Azzura's specialty is their fettuccini. The menu contains thirteen fettuccini dishes alone. My personal recommendations are almost too many to mention. The gnocchi, the lasagna, the chicken marsala, the fettuccini with clams, the eggplant parm, the pasta alla puttanesca, the tortellini-- all excellent. The chicken alla sorrentina costs $12, but is worth every penny. It's chicken parm stuffed with eggplant parm, basically.

The Grotta Azzura also offers homemade garlic bread, free of charge with dinner. They're indescribably good, especially when you get them right out of the oven. They also make pizza, but Rosa has been known to look slightly offended if you order the pizza. And if you bring a large party in without reservations, she'll yell at you, but feed you anyway.

The dining atmosphere is also hard to beat. Inside, it's a rather small and unassuming place, but I've always said you can't eat decor. Joe and Rosa have given the place a lot of personality, to the point where you feel like you're eating in someone's kitchen in Ozone Park. And Rosa could have been a famous comedienne if the restaurant business hadn't gotten her first.

The Grotta Azzura is at 52 Main Street, between Oak and Murray Streets, a few blocks west of the downtown area. It's about a block and a half from U.S. 11, and convenient to all major highways (not that Binghamton has many of those).

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