Okay, people, red sauce. Pretend for a moment that I’m Paulie Walnuts staring at a plate of squid ink tagliatelle and saying, “Hey, I can’t eat this [expletive] . Can I just get some macaroni and gravy?”
We tend to talk about the same handful of Italian restaurants where the chefs cook in a contemporary style, but we ignore the scores (if not hundreds) of red-sauce places that hunker down in every strip mall throughout the land.
On a reader tip, I visited Mona Lisa Pizzeria in John’s Creek, which turned out to be directly across the street from the oft-cited contemporary Italian restaurant, Di Paolo.
It was dark and hyper-air-conditioned inside. There was easy-listening music and a waiter with a gruff-likable Northeastern attitude running the joint. The food made me think of the Italian diner my family always stopped in on the way to Jersey Shore. The acid clarity of that tomato sauce, the cardboardy flavor of breadcrumbs, the fennel zing of sausage, the thin blankets of melted cheese over everything.
A pounded-out veal chop parmigiana arrived over a bed of soft linguine and tasted very much like something Paulie would’ve approved of. I think some fresher breadcrumbs would elevate this dish to craveworthy status. A sausage and peppers parmigiana sub was a knife-and-fork affair for a hearty eater.
Our favorite was a “Bronx cheer” pizza, which had a nicely chewy crust and a topping of roasted peppers and basil. The cheese blend seemed to contain a fair amount of tangy provolone, which went well with the sweet peppers.
I wouldn’t drive for this restaurant, but I could see putting it in rotation if I lived nearby.
Do you have a favorite strip-mall red-sauce Italian restaurant that isn’t fancy but really good? And if you have any photos, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll post them. Thanks.
- by John Kessler for the Food & More blog