In Defense of Red Sauce Restaurants
Man, I’ve been writing this blog for a long time. Back in 2010, I did a bunch of posts in defense of a lot of different things. There was In Defense of Cream in Coffee, In Defense of Fussy Little Portions, and In Defense of Cheap Beer in Cans.
The idea was to stand up for the good in things that people often derided. Some of the things I had scoffed at in the past myself.
Today, I am resurrecting this theme so that I can help spread the joy of old school Italian-American red sauce joints. And perhaps they don’t need defending. If you did a count of the restaurants in the Capital Region, I’m fairly certain a plurality of them would fall within the Italian-American genre.
It’s the ubiquity that seems to bring contempt. My argument has always been a little different.
There are plenty of reasons why I don’t typically go out for Italian-American food. For starters, this is a cuisine that I’m quite competent at cooking myself. I have ready access to the ingredients, a host of trusted recipes, and most of the tools I need for the task.
I’m not sure about the history of Italian-American cooking, but somehow when the cuisine was translated to the U.S. everything became drenched in cheese, fried, and served in gigantic portions. So it’s not really the most healthful of options on the dining scene.
And for some reason, many of the Italian-American places in the region feel surprisingly expensive for what they are.
Wait a second. Weren’t you supposed to be defending these restaurants?
Sometimes you just want a big old plate of noodles and gravy. Because those slippery strands of pasta slathered with the rich umami of a stewed tomato sauce is just all kinds of comforting. Winter in the Capital Region is typically when the craving strikes. Luckily, in these sweater wearing and bulky jacket months, nobody is going to notice the extra few pounds from chowing down on a big bowl full of white flour that’s enshrouded with cheese.
While many of these dishes aren’t hard to produce, a lot of them can be a real pain in the ass. I’ll confess here and now that I’ve never rolled a meatball. I’ve made eggplant parm, and it’s a ton of work. Just last night I portioned out the quadruple batch of bolognese, and given how long that took to cook, each drop of that sauce is insanely precious.
It’s occasionally a great pleasure to hand off the work to someone else. Especially someone who is skilled at the task. I’m really looking forward to trying Chef Nick’s take on this cuisine at Donna’s, which opened up recently.
But I’m really writing this because yesterday I went for lunch at Lo Porto’s in Troy, and it solved the most persistent problem of cost. Most everything on the menu is between $10 and $12, and everything is large enough to feed at least two people.
Which means even those who judge restaurants based on how much food they bring home in a doggy bag will be happy.
What left me scratching my head was why the place was mostly empty for lunch. I love Slidin’ Dirty around the corner, and they do a brisk lunch business, which is great. But for the price of two sliders, you can get enough pasta to put you in a food coma for the rest of the day, and then put you in a food coma again later that night.
Last night I wrote up the experience in a bit more detail, and you can read that here.
But in the meantime, there are people on the West Coast who would kill to have chicken parm as good as we’ve got it out here. Yes, it seems to be everywhere. Yes, you’ve probably had it more times than you can count. Yes, your mother might make it better. But still, sometimes, it really hits the spot.