By Jeff Kosmacher
No calamari? No mussels and clams? It’s hard to believe that the standard Italian fare wasn’t known in the mid Hudson Valley until 1961. That’s when the first Italian restaurant came to the area, thanks to the Coppola family. Luigi Coppola proudly points out that when his family’s initial restaurant opened in Poughkeepsie, “We introduced this area to many of the dishes that people have come to know from Southern Neapolitan Italian cooking. No one around here knew what calamari was, mussels and clams, all of that was brought to this area by my father and his brothers.”
It was a hit. That first Coppola’s establishment remained downtown at 187 Main Street until 1980. Regrettably it had to move a few miles to the east because its business had been crippled by ill-fated urban planning: its prime downtown section of Main Street was unsuccessfully turned into an automobile-free pedestrian mall, in an attempt to lure back the shoppers abandoning downtown retail for the proliferating malls.
Flash forward to December 2017 when, in a hopeful sign for downtown Poughkeepsie’s resurgence, the now multifaceted Coppola’s food enterprise opened its newest restaurant at 296 Main, only steps away from the family business’s founding location. The new Coppola’s at Liberty & Main “has a simpler menu than our other places,” says Coppola. “We’re trying to do something more casual, more of a deli style, which we hadn’t done before.”
From the outset, dishes such as veal or chicken parmigiana, chicken Marsala, and zuppa di pesce (a large Italian-style “Fisherman’s Platter” over a bed of linguini) have remained the go-tos at the more formal Coppola’s locations in Poughkeepsie and nearby Hyde Park. By contrast, the biggest sellers at Liberty & Main are new and very un-Italian specialty sandwiches: a grilled turkey reuben and the Main Street Monte Cristo (both $8). “We expected items like these to be nice complements to our classic Italian fare, and it’s turned out to be the opposite,” Coppola says. “What we’re seeing is that people who have enjoyed our signature dishes over the years see something new and think, ‘This has to be good, too, I’ll try it.’”
The family’s take on broccoli di rabe ($8) exemplifies a longtime favorite that was chosen as a more Italian offering at Liberty & Main. Fresh rabe is sautéed with oil and garlic, then sausage is added to the sauté, with the mix eventually tossed with penne. “It’s very simple, and I just love broccoli rabe because growing up it’s what we ate morning, noon and night,” says Coppola.
No one’s leaving this restaurant hungry. Minestrone and escarole are soup mainstays ($4). Eclectic pasta choices include a mac & cheese with alfredo sauce, diced bacon, onions, peas and chicken ($8). In addition to an extensive salad bar, prepared salads range from an insalata de arugula with fresh plum tomatoes, walnuts, diced red onions and boiled egg, tossed with lemon vinaigrette ($8) to a classic cold antipasto ($11). Choose from Francese, Marsala or cacciatore sauces for your sautéed scaloppini chicken medallions ($10). Satisfy your homemade lasagna craving ($10), or “build your own panini” from an abundant palette of meats, veggies “accents” (Applewood smoked bacon or prosciutto, for example) and spreads (from sriracha aioli to cilantro jalapeno hummus).
The Coppola brothers.
Antonio Coppola (pronounced “cuh-PO-lah") partnered with his brothers Joseph and Vincent, over from Naples to Poughkeepsie, to start the family’s first restaurant. Now in his 80s, he still butchers for the dynamic company that has grown to include four area locations, an extensive line of jarred marinara sauces (sold online
and by roughly 600 retailers in the Northeast such as Hannaford’s, Stop & Shop and Price Chopper), and a catering service. Bringing the family business back to downtown Poughkeepsie after more than 35 years completes a very personal circle for Antonio’s five sons, who succeeded their father heading the family operation – Nick (57), John (55), Anthony (53), Luigi (48), and Vinnie (45).
“For about the first ten years of the restaurant we lived in the apartment right above, and Poughkeepsie was our playground,” Luigi Coppola says. “We would play in the parking lot, we would play stickball, you name it, whatever it was we ended up doing there. We would walk up the street to get our accordion lessons, dragging that big monster accordion with us.”
“And,” he continues, “it was like a neighborhood in the old-fashioned movies, where moms would lean out the window and scream for their kids to come in the house.” (Cue the legendary Prince Spaghetti commercial
Coppola's at Liberty & Main
296 Main Street, Poughkeepsie, NY
Open Monday - Friday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.