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Remember: Italian Salad

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Italian Salad

I received the delivery from Salvatore’s Pizzeria in Macungie Pennsylvania. I had ordered a salad and garlic knots. The knots were unremarkable; cooked cylinders of pizza dough doused in olive oil and a few spoonfuls of the ready minced garlic easily bought in any grocery store or supermarket. My surprise came with the salad.

1. The Dressing

No balsamic vinaigrette here. Hell, it may not have even been red wine vinegar. It was probably vegetable oil and white vinegar. It was also made with a hearty dose of dried Italian seasonings. It might have been a hoagie dressing as well.

2. The Red Onion

Sliced in that thin and circular sort of way that leaves the flesh of the vegetable wet and stringy. There was an abundance of these and with each bite they seemed to stick in my teeth more frequently.

3. The pickles and pepperoncini

Obviously just jarred and placed on the salad. The pickling brines added flavor to the aforementioned dressing.

4. The Lettuce

Shredded iceberg. Nothing more. Nothing less.

This may have been the best salad I have had in years.

This was a no pretense bullshit free salad. It was designed to distract hungry diners from the wait before their main course of pizza or spaghetti and meatballs or eggplant parmigiana arrived. It was greasy and delicious.

It is however what this salad conjured that made it so remarkable. With each bite, the old corner pizza joints lived again. I know that they are still out there. Penn Pizza on 19th Street in Allentown is an outstanding example. These places make no frills, genuine, mostly unhealthy and entirely appetizing Italian immigrant food. There menus are all but identical. Each one has a dedicated following claiming that their joint has the best pizza or the best clam sauce of the best steak sandwich. They all might be right.

These places laid the foundation for the romantic , expensive, rustic and much more sophisticated candle-lit Italian restaurants and ultimately the cloying chains of The Olive Garden, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, and Buca Di Beppo.
The corner joints have a fridge of cans and bottles of beer. No wine. There are no candles on tabletops.

They do have paper place mats with maps of Italy and pictures of The Leaning Tower of Pisa on them. They certainly have the steel carafe of glass shakers of dried Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper and oregano.

They do have character.

I remember on Fridays (especially during Lent) going to these places and they would be packed with diners. There would be a long line from the counter with people waiting for take out and oftentimes the floor would be wet with footprints from outside. In thick Italian accents you could hear the cooks and servers yelling and working and trying to answer the phone in order to deal with the dinner rush. It would reek like garlic inside and plate after plate of pasta and bright red tomato sauce and pizza would fly by in the servers hands as the hungry eyes of waiting customers would grow wetter.

The salads came first.

They were always the same;just like the one I had from Salvatore’s last week. I didn’t expect it when I ordered it but it probably was the best salad I’ve had in years.

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5 Comments:

OpenID notlikethepants said...

Is this going to be on the Regular? If so I'd like to link you from my blog (http://notlikethepants.wordpress.com).

For the record, Salvatores on west-corner of 19th and Allen was always my favorite pizza joint... a little part of me died inside when they moved into their current location and became Ruffino's, an Italian restaurant. Now, living in Emmaus, there are about 25 pizza joints within spitting distance of my house... but none quite so good as Sal's.
-Capri

February 5, 2009 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

Capri, rumor has it that they are moving back across the street and since I do live right in front of them; the rumors seems true.

February 5, 2009 at 11:10 AM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

And, yes please link away. I am very new to blogging and any suggestions would also be appreciated.

February 5, 2009 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger Andrew Kleiner said...

And confirmed:

http://blogs.mcall.com/retailwatch/2009/02/ruffino-update.html

February 5, 2009 at 12:05 PM  
OpenID notlikethepants said...

oh AWESOME. I mean bummer for them that their restaurant didn't work out but HELL YES to good old fashioned pizzerias!

February 5, 2009 at 12:08 PM  

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