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The Sauce

March 4, 2014

There are lots of ways to learn new things. When it comes to food and beverages, often the best way to learn is to taste.

While this isn’t a post about wine tasting, the Universe would seem to want you to learn about wine this Thursday. Here at IAS, I’ll be attending a wine tasting that compares wines from the old world to their new world counterparts. The Lucas Confectionery in Troy will have actual Slovenian winemakers at The Grocery, sampling their wares at a tasting of seven wines (and one pumpkin seed oil) from the region. And the Saratoga Food Fanatic reports that the Wishing Well is hosting a bonus class on Pinot Noir.

I’m a big believer in tasting. It’s the reason why I bring adventurous readers of the blog out on my periodic Fussy Little Tours. Before too long I hope to nail down a date for the spring tour, so stay tuned.

But tasting isn’t the be all and end all for expanding your knowledge of food. Sometimes you can learn an awful lot by just asking the right questions from the right audience. And just to turn this around a little bit, today I’m going to be asking the question to you. Because there is one thing that seems to have captured the hearts and minds of eaters around the Capital Region (and throughout the northeast to a certain extent) that I just haven’t been able to wrap my head around.

Red sauce.

There’s a giant Italian-American community up here. I get it. No, I never grew up Italian, but I have friends who did. I understand the history and tradition of Sunday sauce, and my old friend D.S. made me her Sicilian family’s recipe that seemed to be filled with more meat than humanly possible. Pounds of sausage links, three-meat meatballs that were as large as a baby’s head, and a hand-tied braciole for good measure. That was amazing.

Personally, I’ve made tomato sauce from whole fresh summer tomatoes that were stewed gently for hours. I’ve made off-season tomato sauces from whole imported San Marzano tomatoes in the can. I can bang out a quick tomato sauce from crushed canned tomatoes that takes no longer to make than it does to boil a pot of pasta water. But maybe my favorite is the raw tomato sauce made only in the summer when the local tomatoes are at their peak.

It’s not that I don’t love tomato sauce or understand the deep mouth filling sense of deliciousness it can bring to meats, vegetables and grains.

What I fail to understand is the connection that people have with the tomato sauce at their favorite Italian-American eatery, whether that be diner, tavern, casual restaurant or fancy palace of fine dining.

I know Vic Christopher speaks highly of his beloved Minissale’s, and loves their Capone sauce which is so hot that it makes him sweat. That kind of detail helps to make these kinds of choices understandable. No other place makes it that spicy. Okay. But Vic isn’t most people, and generally when eaters talk about sauce they are thinking of something more basic.

Some people will say, “The sauce at Ralph’s is the best I’ve ever had.” That tells me nothing. The why is just as important as the where. Denizens of the Capital Region have strong allegiances to restaurants and their sauce. And I just don’t get it. Getting out to all of the places that people swear by would be a feat that would take years to accomplish in an area with so many beloved Italian restaurants. So I’m hoping to get a better sense of the form by asking this two parted question.

As an added incentive, I do have a small little gift to give away to one lucky commenter. It’s a pack of Capital Region Fridge Phrase magnets (thanks to the good folks at City Dining Cards). But you have to answer both parts of the question to qualify. The winner will be chosen at random. And as always, no whining.

So without further ado, here is the question:
1) Which restaurant has your favorite sauce?
1a) Specifically, what is it about the sauce that makes it not just super-delicious, but also better than the others you’ve tried?

Feel free to expand on your answer as much as you like. This is the Internet. We don’t have to pay for paper and ink is free.

“Because it’s off the chain” isn’t an acceptable answer for part 1a. Some specific details may include but are not limited to: bright acidity, deep tomato flavor, concentrated sweetness, restrained use of herbs, chiffonade of fresh basil, lots of garlic, no garlic, distinctive fruitiness of good oil, permeated with the deep funk of parmesan rinds, large juicy chunks of tomato, silky smooth, the absence of a single tomato seed or piece of skin, the use of homegrown tomatoes, made exclusively from imported Italian tomatoes, et cetera.

I’m really hoping your answers can help me understand this phenomenon, as it seems to be a critical part of regional dining scene for which I have little to no context. Thank you.

28 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    March 4, 2014 12:04 pm

    Since my wife produces what I consider to be the finest red sauces (marinara, meat gravy, fra diavolo, Bolognese, all’amatriciana, etc) available in the region, I have little incentive to go seeking the ubiquitous ‘red sauce’ when dining out – I’d much rather try something that I may not have experienced before. Italian-American red sauces in the restaurant are too variable to be trusted blindly, and to be honest the majority of those ‘classic’ dishes tend to bore me these days, so I avoid them anyway. Seriously, how many times can you have Chicken Parmesan before you simply tire of it?

    That said, the best red sauce I’ve ever had in the Albany area is no more: Citone’s at the corner of Quail and Elm used to make an extremely succulent sauce that was well balanced, had chunks of whole, fresh tomato chopped small and was fairly heavy on the fresh garlic and basil, lots of olive oil and perhaps some red wine. Its versatility is what always got me: it seemed equally at home on plain pasta, served with seafood or meat – the same sauce had the amazing ability to not only perfectly compliment the dishes, but also bring out new subtleties. I’ve tried numerous times to recreate the balance he used to achieve in that sauce to no avail. His homemade pasta was amazing, and he made awesome pizzas as well.

    I’ll make no apologies for veering into the semi-distant past on this one, though I am puzzled as to why the topic is so opaque for you. Certainly you have your favorite Chinese restaurant here in the Capital Region (Ala Shanghai), your favorite chicken wings (The Ruck), and you have a host of reasons as to why you enjoy those particular places and menu items. So what’s so hard to understand about red sauce (aside from the near-impossibility of trying them all)?

    • March 5, 2014 12:48 am

      It’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. Given the ubiquity of red-sauce places around the region, it’s probably hard to imagine a world without them. But I spent most of my childhood in Miami which took on a decidedly Cuban flavor. College in Philly was mostly cheesesteaks, pizzas and hoagies. My professional years in San Francisco were divided between learning about California cuisine, munching on late night burritos in the Mission, and exploring the depths of Chinatown.

      So I’m coming into Italian-American red sauce joints without much context.

      Which isn’t to say I couldn’t learn to appreciate the nuances of style and find my favorites. I could. But as you’ve mentioned, it’s a daunting task. Part of what I’m hoping to do here is try to narrow down the field and find some compelling reasons to step foot in a small handful of promising places.

      Because up until now I have found no compelling reason to give it a go. Largely these restaurants represent a lot of what I hate about food in the region. Plates are too expensive, too large, and lean too heavily on lower quality ingredients I wouldn’t cook with at home (much less expect to be served in a nice restaurant). My limited experience has only reinforced the notion that I could eat make this food better myself.

      Yet there are legions of people who seem to be intensely loyal to their favorite sauce. There has to be a reason, and I would like to try and understand it before heading back into the field. I just feel going in a bit more prepared will help me to appreciate it better.

    • Sean in NY permalink
      March 5, 2014 3:18 pm

      Hey -R-, any chance you or your wife would care to share her recipes for some of these sauces with the community? I’m from a similarly abstract background as Daniel and would love to stop waffling around in this red sauce melting pot, instead settling down with some reliable time-tested sauce flavors/recipes. I’d love it if you would be willing to be generous with your recipes. Thanks.

  2. Danielle Sanzone permalink
    March 4, 2014 12:08 pm

    I agree with Vic that the Minissales Sunday sauce in Troy is great. Their hot one is a bit too hot for me but I like their Sunday sauce since it has sausage, beef, meatballs, an egg and a good blend of spices. I also grew up eating it.

  3. March 4, 2014 12:33 pm

    Growing up in an Italian family, this topic hits home for me. My Grandma was Sicilian, and her Sunday gravy was the best I’ve ever tried. I know that’s typical for a granddaughter to say, but I’m very fair and there are certainly things like her Jello molds that I haven’t ever tried to recreate, but her sauce is something no other sauce in this area has even come close to touching.

    Realistically, I haven’t found a single restaurant where I’ve tried the sauce and melted into my seat. Most are either too acidic or too sweet, but never do they have that perfect balance that my Grandmas has. I’d have to say out of all of the ones I’ve tried, from what I remember Three Olives in Ballston Spa was the closest and best I’ve tasted at a restaurant. The last time I was there though, was almost 3 years ago, so I should probably try it again.

    What I’m looking for in a sauce is simple. I need to be able to taste the garlic but not have it overpower any other flavors, I need to see the herbs and taste the zing of oregano and the slightly sweet flavors of basil. I need salt, and lots of it. And finally, I need all of these flavors to linger on my tongue and not sit flat. If you’re making sauce the right way, it should have all of those elements… I just haven’t found my perfect match in the Capital Region yet.

  4. Randy K permalink
    March 4, 2014 1:24 pm

    Not sure if my vote qualifies as a “red sauce” but the first Italian sauce that came to mind is the Bolognese from The Point in Albany. It was the first entree I ordered when they first opened and it’s one I go back for time and time again. The menu describes this delicious plate of food as “Ground wild boar and beef slow-cooked in a Chianti wine, tomato, aromatic vegetable and fresh herb sauce. Served over fresh tagliatelle.” Its depth of flavor is so complex, so unexpected. Sage is one of the most identifiable herbs but it’s a melange of flavors, especially with the two meats playing off each other to create a harmonious balance of flavor. Not too oily or heavy, the flavors are bold and assertive; the texture and mild flavor of the handmade pasta is a complementary “back-up singer” while allowing the sauce to be the star of the show. Perhaps one of the best parts is that it reheats beautifully the next day and the flavors intensify even more overnight! I’m drooling just thinking about this dish. May have to stop in for dinner at The Point sometime this week :)

  5. March 4, 2014 2:39 pm

    When they first opened, I loved the sauce at Katrinella’s, but that was short lived. They went down hill fast and hard. The last time I visited, our meals were so bad they seemed almost a joke. One dish tasted like someone had spilled an entire bottle of dried oregano in it. Another had so much salt it was inedible. The place was unrecognizable from the restaurant I reviewed.

    I was not surprised to see that they closed. Very sad.

    I haven’t found another sauce that I love, although I haven’t visited many red sauce places in the last few years.

    I am open to suggestions.

    Daniel, I would be happy to go sampling with you when you are back in town.


  6. MSquared permalink
    March 4, 2014 3:40 pm

    I, too, grew up with an Italian-American household where Sundays and sauce went hand in hand, dinner started at one and went until about 7 pm. I’m truly stuggling with my comment because I can’t think of anywhere in the capital region where I had such a good sauce that it was memorable. The last time I had Italian food out at a restaurant that was memorable and intentional, it was a restaurant my dad picked, it was while he was still alive. We went to D’Raymonds. Food was as close to home cooking as we could get. I remember them as having a solid sauce, great balance of flavors in the sauce from start to finish. Had a nice garlic zest without being overpowering, great meat flavors without being super heavy, and just enough salt to make the other flavors come alive. Now, it’s been over 20 years that I’ve been there, mostly because it reminds me of my dad, and I don’t want to be there without him. I just looked up online to see if what I remember matches up to other people’s reviews, it’s good to see they we’re mostly positive.

  7. Jessica R permalink
    March 4, 2014 4:04 pm

    I don’t have an answer to your question. All I wanted to say is that when you DO go to Minnesalle’s, get the Lasagna. Don’t bother adding the meat sauce that they will offer you. It isn’t needed.

  8. Andrew permalink
    March 4, 2014 4:12 pm

    Boy, this is a doozy. Everyone compares any sauce to their mother’s or grandmother’s or their favorite sauce growing up.

    My favorite sauce is not sweet at all and has a deep, rich umami flavor to it. I presume that is because the sauce is always made at the same time as meatballs. As canned tomatoes (crushed and whole) are simmering with some basic dried herbs, meatballs (beef, pork, veal, parm, parsley, egg, chunks of stale bread, garlic, salt, pepper and water) are made and pan-fried. The meatballs are done when they are deeply browned, but just a tad pink in the middle.

    Now here is the secret…

    In the same pan as the meatballs were cooked in, and without dumping out any of the oil, fry up sliced onions, chopped garlic and the tomato paste. After about 15 minutes, that paste of oil, onions, garlic and tomato paste is added to the sauce, along with the meatballs, to simmer for another 2-3 hours.

    This step gives the sauce a deep, meaty flavor, and helps to thicken it, while taking the bitterness out of the tomato paste. It produces the sauce that I grew up with and the sauce I love more than any food in the world.

    Finding that in a restaurant has been difficult. So much so that I rarely get red sauce out.

    I was pleasantly surprised with the sauce (and meatballs) at Sciortino’s. My favorite sauce is probably the Bolognese at Pasta Pane or Chianti, but I wouldn’t lump that in with red sauce.

    I guess I answered 1a, but I don’t have a great answer for 1.

  9. March 4, 2014 4:31 pm

    The tomato sauce they put on the tomato pie at Perreca’s. (NOT the watery stuff at “More Perreca” next door.) Why? Because it is as tomato-y as a sauce can be. I’m sure they combine tomato paste and canned tomatoes, both of good quality, and cook it down till a stirring spoon can stand up in the pot. It’s intense, sweet, and with just enough bitterness to make things interesting. I want some right now.

  10. March 4, 2014 5:19 pm

    I don’t think I will be able to answer both parts of the question as I do not like to eat “red sauce” at [local] restaurants. I think red sauce is a subjective experience and therefore, I don’t think any one will agree on any one place because those places align with individual tastes. Personally, I dislike bitter, sweet, and overly acidic sauces. Nor do I like ones laden with meat and only fresh herbs will do. So, I usually steer clear of red sauce at restaurants as I am more often than not disappointed. That said, in the past I enjoyed the sauces at Ristorante Paradiso, WAY back and that particular one cook left so I no longer eat there. The other was Cavaleri’s, which has been closed for a long while.

  11. March 4, 2014 6:00 pm

    DeFazio’s on 4th street in Troy has the most amazing sauce.
    The sauce starts with the essence of fine tomatoes. Smooth and tangy without biting. Like breasts, young enough to be firm and supple yet mature enough to be sweet. Tangy without sour.
    Garlic adorns the tomatoes like a pearl necklace; elegant, alluring, and seductive.
    The blend of seasonings act like soft whispers beckoning you to go for more.
    It is a loving embrace of your taste buds that feels safe and exciting at the same time. Satisfying while driving a desire for more.

    • DEN permalink
      March 5, 2014 8:20 pm

      I’ll second DeFazio’s as good sauce, although I tend not to utilize such colorful descriptions! Rocco and his family can talk forever about the tomatoes they buy from the family-owned and operated farm that cans their own product (apparently a rarity). The problem for voting for red sauce around here is that everybody with an Italian background inevitably will have a different opinion on what constitutes good stuff. An example I remember when one local Italian place first opened up to rave reviews, especially my father, about a decade ago. When I went in, I was unimpressed because I found the sauce way too sweet. These days, it seems like the fewer and fresher the ingredients, the better the red sauce.

      But I welcome the question. I think the title is up for grabs. Now that fresh and local is starting to gain traction, it might be time for an objective look at the topic as applied to red sauce. Some of the old favorites cause heartburn these days. Maybe my iron stomach is eroding, or maybe spending a dozen years eating in bigger cities offered me a fresh perspective on what I considered to be top Italian cuisine.

  12. March 4, 2014 10:11 pm

    I don’t have a favorite sauce — but every once in a while, I run across a really bad sauce. You can tell I’m not Italian, I guess, ’cause I have two categories for sauces: bad, and “sure, that’s fine.”

  13. albanylandlord permalink
    March 5, 2014 12:11 am

    My favorite sauce is Cafe Capriccio. What I remember is that it tastes fresh and light rather than overcooked, both the tomatoes and the herbs. I am struggling to better describe why I like it, but it has been a while since I had it. Time for a refresher…

  14. March 5, 2014 2:02 am

    Daniel, it’s funny that you wrote and shared this today, because this morning for breakfast I made myself some eggs in purgatory, which is just eggs poached in marinara sauce with some cheese sprinkled on at the end.

    I’m not as much of a devotee of the red-sauce Italian restaurant scene as others in the region, which probably has something to do with the fact that I was a member of the non-Italian minority in the schools in that town west of Schenectady growing up. My French-Canadian/Irish grandmother nonetheless did make a marinara sauce that I quite enjoyed. My mother would use the same recipe, but it never came out quite the same. We think Grandma just spent more time over the stove stirring it, but we also haven’t totally ruled out the theory that she had a secret ingredient and took it to the grave.

    It’s comfort food. If you think about it, the ingredients in marinara sauce are actually not that far off from the ingredients in ketchup. Putting red sauce on pasta or dough is functionally similar to–and maybe one step more sophisticated than–putting ketchup on a burger and fries.

    A good sauce is a little spicy, but not too much; a little salty, but not too much; and a little sweet, but not too much. Most importantly, a good sauce is savory. A ripe tomato is a source of umami taste. That’s not a word you’re gonna hear the Italians use, but that’s what it is.

    The unfortunate thing is maybe that the red-sauce comfort dishes dominate the menus of local Italian restaurants, whereas the other local comfort dishes–the ones you’ve been more fond of–don’t loom so large over the menus of the finer non-Italian dining establishments.

  15. enough already! permalink
    March 5, 2014 9:53 am

    Despite being a Fussy Italian, I keep a jar of Minnisale’s Sicilian in my pantry for times when my freezer is empty of my own and the urge for macaroni is upon me. Don’t eat italian out much, but imagine their restaurant must be pretty darned good. Don’t get me going on all of the overly salty, overly herby, overly garlicky sauces out there! My first time in Italy was when I realized how awful most restaurant sauce here was.
    An eggplant dish at More Perreca’s recently had a red delicious sauce, and I look forward to dining there again to try more.

  16. Susan L permalink
    March 5, 2014 12:12 pm

    I find that people in the capitol region choose to flock to their favorite neighborhood Italian joint similar to the way people in the UK flock to their favorite pub. They want familiarity and comfort, not necessarily an extraordinary or unique dining experience. That’s why people in the ‘DelSo’ go to Sam’s and those from ‘Mount Pleasant’ frequent Ferrari’s. When I choose an Italian restaurant, I do not do so with the intention of ordering red sauce. I want a dining experience, so I generally try something from the menu that I wouldn’t normally make on my own. When I do order something with a tomato sauce, I tend toward the spicy/peppery such as fra diavolo. Scotti’s on Union St. in Schenectady does a decent job of offering fresh unique alternatives for those who are tired of the typical, ubiquitous red sauce options. I know this doesn’t answer your question Daniel, but as you know there are many of us around Schenectady who crave more variety in our dining options (Tara Kitchen and La Mexicana is just not enough).

  17. Kerosena permalink
    March 5, 2014 1:41 pm

    Wow, this is a tough one! Like many other commenters, I don’t have a one good answer. Years ago, I would have said the Italian Community Center (now Treviso). Their sauce was tangy and devoid of skin and seeds. It was medium-thick, without chunks of tomato. Not sweet, and no overwhelming garlic powder flavor. I hate it when I can taste garlic powder for 24 hours after eating sauce. That’s the main reason I don’t care for Ralph’s.

    If I was going out for Italian food today, I would go to Appian Way. Their sauce is light and fresh, and really in a different class than what I think you’re looking for. It’s bright and tomato-y.

    If I had a hankering for chicken parm, I might head to Sam’s Italian & American Restaurant. Actually, I think their sauce is a good example of Red Sauce. It’s really smooth and I’m pretty sure there are no skins or seeds.

    My guess is that part of what people like in a Red Sauce joint is the atmosphere. There’s something familiar and comforting about places like Sam’s, Citones, and Cavaleri’s. We remember meals with our families over the years. We’ve gone there for graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and after funerals. We were greeted by the same people each time: the grandmotherly hostess, the “lifer” waiter, the hardworking owner. These people knew the names of my family and seemingly every other family in the restaurant. When a restaurant is so tied into our concept of family, the taste of the sauce becomes secondary. We know we like this or that restaurant, we know we like the sauce, but it might be hard to explain why. It’s more of a feeling than a flavor.

  18. Deedee permalink
    March 5, 2014 2:18 pm

    Sadly I don’t have a good answer for you. I didn’t grow up with any red sauce at all, so I have no baseline memory. Most that I have eaten locally have been too sweet and/or tasted metallic to me. I therefore avoid ordering anything with red sauce at a restaurant. Hubby likes Macaroni Grill but I tried to get him to tell me what he likes about the sauce and he couldn’t tell me.

  19. Shawn permalink
    March 5, 2014 7:55 pm

    Unfortunately I don’t think you are going to get a good answer to your question(s). Although there are plenty of red sauce places in the Capital District, I would guess most people have a favorite place for a reason other than who has the best sauce, e.g. proximity, portion size/perceived bargain, family tradition, nostalgia, routine, etc.

    I think this area is ripe for a tour because I’m assuming most people don’t venture too far from their neighborhood to visit one of these places, yet most people would claim their nearby red sauce joint one of the best. I think Watervliet is a great example, there are a number of these places and not much else for restaurant choices within the city limits. I would bet that if you asked anyone that grew up in the city, they would tell you one place is the best and if you asked them a couple follow-up questions you would soon realize
    it was the best because that is where their family always went and some might tell you they have never stepped foot into the other red sauce establishments.

    Given my theory above, if you asked me these questions as a kid growing up in Waterford, which surprisingly did not have a significant red sauce presence, I would tell you to go across the river to North Troy and try Testo’s, they were the best to me back then. Now
    though, living in Albany, the best would be Sam’s, Bongiorno’s, or Ralph’s. No clue on an answer for the second part of the question. With little ones, I don’t have a dominant favorite at the moment, the infrequent nights out are reserved for more adventurous eating. Sign me up for the tour if it is needed and you feel it is worthwhile.

    And so you can ponder the results of this post and report back to us, a question – What were the results of the questions you posed and was there any type of majority?

  20. March 5, 2014 8:32 pm

    Like many commenters, my favorite red sauce is my own, followed closely by my Nana’s. I like a red sauce that tastes meaty. I either braise a bone in piece of pork in it or I braise meatballs in it. I don’t pan fry my meatballs because I feel like they infuse the sauce with more meaty flavor when they’re added raw.

    It’s rare (never?) for me to go to a red sauce Italian joint. What’s the point? Anything they can do, I can do better. When I go out to eat it’s typically for things I can’t easily make at home.

  21. March 5, 2014 11:53 pm

    When we don’t make our own, we absolutely love Dominic’s brand red sauce. It is flavorful but not too acidic and is just sweet enough. We use it on top of pasta, baked eggplant or chicken Parmesan and in lasagna and baked ziti. It is locally made at the pizza shop in New Scotland and sold at most local grocery stores.

  22. March 6, 2014 2:41 am

    My favorite red sauce is a draw between the Marinara sauce at the long gone (well still open but a shell of its former self under new ownership) Brick Oven in Bridgeport, Connecticut and my version of their sauce – which is basically olive oil, minced garlic, Scalafini crushed tomatoes (the can that has the label painted on it), and salt. A tomato sauce is as good as the tomatoes. High quality tomatoes, gently seasoned, done. The sauce takes less time to make than cooking the pasta.

    I have yet to have a pasta dish a DeFazio’s. I am always overwhelmed by my urges to eat all of their pizza. I recently took their pizza class and was shown how they make their pizza sauce. It follows the same theory – gently seasoned high quality tomatoes. I imagine their red sauce (if it is different than the pizza sauce) follows the same principle.

    I know a few people that swear by a few Schenectady/Rotterdam institutions but I’ve been so-so on my visits there. To me those places, along with the legendary Ralph’s fall into a quantity over quality category. Hard to argue with their years of success, but I would prefer a smaller portion of higher quality.

  23. Debra permalink
    March 6, 2014 10:14 am

    I’ve pondered this for days and when I first read the blog only Katrinella’s came to mind (oh how I miss them), but since they aren’t open any more, I had to move on. I can’t really say that I go out and eat red sauce dishes as It is something that I can make myself – easily. If I had to choose though, I would probably go with Café Capriccio. Everything that I’ve had with red sauce there is usually fresh – which makes a big difference to me and not overly salty as with a lot of restaurants, which is a turn off for me. I like the garlic, basil, oregano flavors in a red sauce the most. Just the basics, not overdone.

  24. March 6, 2014 9:54 pm

    So, this is an interesting question. I do have a favorite “red sauce.” I am putting “red sauce” in quotes because, as Daniel indicates, this means something different for everyone. For me, it is marinara sauce. And for me, my marinara should be super smooth, easy on the oregano, and LOTS of basil. I also don’t object to a touch of crushed red pepper to give it a little bit of kick, but I rarely see that. I like a perfect balance of sweetness and acid.

    My favorite marinara sauce is at Emilio’s in Commack, NY. In fact, Emilio’s has my most favorite meatballs anywhere. Their Rigatoni Alla Mama is to-die-for … my big complaint about it, actually, that every time I order it I ask to substitute the house spaghetti sauce for their marinara sauce, so I can get their delicious basil-loaded creation along with two giant meatballs garnished with ricotta … mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. Anyway, this seemingly easy substitution has only been honored for me once. I’ve never sent it back, because their house sauce is good, too, but it’s chunky. And it doesn’t have as much basil. And I like smooth sauce. It’s a texture thing for me. Oh, and did I mention basil? I like basil. :)

    I should probably mention, for those who are unfamiliar with Long Island, it is the land of Strip Malls. And nearly every Strip Mall has some sort of Italian joint, with varying degrees of Fancy. The vast majority of Italian joints are not Fancy. No one wants to pay a lot for Italian food on Long Island, because there is no reason to do so. Emilio’s is slightly fancier than a lot of the places, but by about a half step. The fact that we drive “all the way to Commack” from Northport when we are visiting my in-laws is a testament to how good the food is there. (The distance between Commack and Northport, mind you, is akin to the distance, say, between Guilderland and Colonie. But with an Italian joint in every strip mall, of which there are multiple on each block of every major thoroughfare, that is a distance to travel!)

    Locally, I would say Cardona’s makes a good marinara sauce as well as pizza sauce (which, I believe, the only difference is the pizza sauce has no oregano and is a bit smoother than the marinara, but the differences are subtle … if someone can chime in to correct me, please do, because I am actually not certain). It is what we use at home, and previously C would make his own sauce. We don’t really eat out at Italian places that often locally, (because we are spoiled by a multitude of delicious and cheap options when visiting in-laws, which we do frequently). But Cardona’s has good sauce.

  25. March 13, 2014 12:46 pm

    When it comes to red sauce, there is no one restaurant that I like above the rest. There are restaurants I will frequently go to for a specific dish that just happens to have red sauce in it. Not memorable, but still satisfied.

    For example, if I go to Raplh’s (and I am only using them as an example because I recently ate there), I usually order linguini with red clam sauce. Is it because the sauce is amazing or the clams are sustainably sourced and taste like the ocean? No. I order it because I’ve been ordering it since I was in college. I liked it then and I go with what I like. Recently I tried their fra diavolo and that was nice and spicy. Their plain marainara… not worth it to me.

    The best sauce is almost always the one I make. I am not not going to say a definitve, 100% mine is always the best, because I can screw it up too. Too much seasoning, too much oil, burned the garlic… take your pick. Tomatoes, onion, garlic, oil and herbs are all I really need to sauce up some noodles.

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