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BTD Forums  /  Cook Right 4 Your Type  /  Southern Italian Food
Posted by: san j, Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:43am
JJR recently posted re: Kentucky Fried Chicken - his Avoid craving on Super Bowl Sunday.

Here comes mine, featuring mostly tomatoes, but a few other Avoids.

I was born and raised in New York, with a grandmother who thought "One Clove Garlic" = a head of garlic cloves and whose regular matriarchal family feasts featured Chicken Cacciatore and a vinaigrette that could be smelled across the street.
Another NY expat (ancestry: Sicilian) and I were just reminiscing about Southern ("Neapolitan") Italian food, because that was the standard Italian fare in our hometown, as its Italian immigrants brought that cuisine to our shores there. We live in San Francisco, where the standard Italian fare is decidedly Northern-Italy influenced, with a certain California angle tweaking it away from what you get in Europe, too.
New York was crazy for Neapolitan Italian food - marinaras, scampi, manicotti, "real" (ultra-thin crust - no "toppings") pizza - and when you're in California for more than a quarter century, it's exclusively the stuff of dreams.

We regularly used to go to a place called Grotta Azzurra on Mulberry street (Little Italy, Manhattan). It was down a flight of stairs to its entrance, and you walked pretty much right into the no-frills dining room, with its large mural portraying the eponymous Blue Grotto (in Capri). That staircase was very steep - uncomfortably steep for children, but you had to stand in line to get in, perhaps for an hour (No Reservations), salivating all the while for what was to come.

To this day, I like to look at pictures of Lobster Fra Diavolo. Grotta Azzura's was superb, and you'd wear a bib when you ate it in the noisy downstairs eatery Sinatra loved. They made a wicked Linguine with Clams (red or white sauce) and those New Yorky dishes "Shrimp Scampi", (grilled prawns and linguine in a garlic butter sauce with parsley) and baked clams. For me, it was all about shellfish, but they had a full seafood menu and plenty of veal and other meat and pasta offerings. The place is still thriving ("since 1908").
You can visit it at I like the slide show (food photos) you see when you click on "gallery". It now includes breakfast foods (don't know if it served breakfast back in the day), but that veal parmigiana looks heavenly. The photos are good - you can almost taste the mushrooms, the lasagna, the calamari.

This friend and I can talk pizza and NY Italian food for, literally, hours. A "real" Italian restaurant, featuring authentic southern Italian/ Naples-style cuisine would, if excellent, score bigtime in San Francisco, ostensibly so culinarily sophisticated a town but where NY expats (and we are many) languish for it. This is a trendy town, where dining rooms are hyper-"designed", and the whole industry can feel very precious. We New Yorkers can take our chow, like Lady and the Tramp, in a back alley behind a kitchen, for all we care - it only adds to the romance. Add Grandma from the old country speaking no English, hand-pounding something (tenderizing meat, crushing tomatoes, peppers, or spices), some laughter, music and color, and in no time the place is on the map.

I could tell you about Italian eateries in Manhattan that grew into restaurants from macaroni factories, butcher shops and bocce courts. If New York business forced their expansion into large, busy Reservation-Only attractions, how do you think what we call a "Real" Italian restaurant would go over in Asian-and-Latin-heavy San Francisco's restaurant scene?

So I'm not supposed to eat tomatoes. But a quarter century is a long time. Someone read this and gimme a place to go once in a blue moon, please.
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If your replies are pro-S. Italian food, great. Stay me with meatballs, comfort me with gnocchi, for I am sick of love.
No judgments, please; I'm a B, and for me, visualization and storytelling, which know no avoids, deliver tremendous satisfaction.  ;)
Posted by: Possum, Thursday, March 7, 2013, 1:52am; Reply: 1
Oh my gosh - that must be hard not being able to have tomatoes?! Loved the imagery you conveyed above!!
Posted by: san j, Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:33pm; Reply: 2
Thanks, Possum.

San Francisco at least has Cioppino, a seafood stew, like Bouillabaisse. You get the tomato/fish stock thing and can make it garlicky and peppery if you like...
Posted by: cajun, Thursday, March 7, 2013, 9:38pm; Reply: 3
San j,
I grew up in Orange county, CA in an Italian neighborhood. Most families had Sicilian ancestry but there were two second generation from Naples and Sorrento. There were two Polish people married to Italians, one English and Costa Rican family, then my Mom(French/Italian/Jewish) and stepdad (grandparents from Luxembourg).
Just reading your post made my mouth water and reminded me of the intoxicating smell that constantly wafed up and down our block(about 16 houses).Almost everyone attended the same parish church, were blue collar workers, had Sunday suppers and played weekly bocce ball on our huge front lawns.
My best friend lived across the street and her Mom had a prized fig tree from which she made the worlds best real Italian fig cookies...some plain, some iced. She taught me how to make real lasagna(she called her sauce "sugo"/not gravy) and when we were sick she gave us pastina with one egg dropped in. When her son in law had a life threatening surgery, she made a St.Josephs Table. All the neighbors brought their Italian specialty foods and the altar took up the whole living room! Her Italian Easter(egg)bread was scrumptious!
Thanks for letting me look back. Best memories! 8)
Posted by: san j, Thursday, March 7, 2013, 10:14pm; Reply: 4
I was "set off" by an episode of the food TV show, Bobby Flay's Throwdown, when the shoe was on the other foot, and Frank Pellegrino of Rao's challenged Bobby for a "Night of the Seven Fishes" (Italian traditional Christmas feast) competition between their two restaurants in Caesar's Palace in Vegas.
The show is just...fantastic if you're a fan of this food.
If you can watch this program, do it, because it brings it all home; you come this close to tasting it. And they love it, they know how to talk it.  :D

Cajun: Thanks for your story. Next time I'm in Orange County, I'll be looking (rather: sniffing) for that Sicilian neighborhood!
Posted by: 815 (Guest), Friday, March 8, 2013, 3:30pm; Reply: 5
I grew up on southern Italian cooking. Calabria is where my family is from. It's very plain, peasant cooking.  No cream sauces or lasagne.  Mostly fish, poultry and pasta.  Sometimes meatballs and sausage. We didn't even have gnocchi.  My grandmother didn't make it.  She made strufolli at Christmas time.  My mom ate organs.. tripe, brains.. :X
Posted by: san j, Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 8:40pm; Reply: 6
Quoted from 815
I grew up on southern Italian cooking. Calabria is where my family is from. It's very plain, peasant cooking.  No cream sauces or lasagne.  Mostly fish, poultry and pasta.  Sometimes meatballs and sausage. We didn't even have gnocchi.  My grandmother didn't make it.  She made strufolli at Christmas time.  My mom ate organs.. tripe, brains.. :X

Two cookbooks that look mighty interesting, if not downright beautiful, Mayflowers:
My Calabria
Cucina di Calabria

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