The kid headed back to college over Labor Day weekend, but before she left she wanted one more opportunity to leech a free meal off the ‘rents. Her first choice was some joint on Route 1 in Saugus (the “Saugus Strip”), but when my wife looked it up on Yelp, all the comments said it was a Mafia hangout (yes, such places do really exist, and Saugus has been a mob town for many, many years). So she nixed that and found another local Italian place for us to try, the Berry Tavern in Danvers.
None of us had ever heard of it, and my expectations were fairly low, since townie restaurants vary wildly. Apparently, though, there has been a tavern, hotel, or restaurant on that site since the mid-1700s. Longevity doesn’t always equal quality, but at least it seemed like there would be little risk of being gunned down as collateral damage in a mob hit.
As it turned out, the place was absolutely packed, including people sitting outside, and people showing up for take-away orders. We had to wait a bit to get a table.
I had the meatballs for my appetizer, and the baked gnocchi for my entree and both were really, really good. Satisfying in the way that spaghetti-house food so often is – not challenging, just warm and comforting and plentiful. i was drawn to the gnocchi because Sam The Cooking Guy had recently done a very similar dish that looked amazing. This dish was not quite as over the top as Sam’s, but was really yummy. The meatballs were excellent, too. Obviously made there and not just from a bag from Sysco.
Now that we know about this place, I am sure we’ll be back there the next time we are feeling like Italian food.
I used to love watching all the cooking shows on PBS on Saturday afternoons, but over the last year or so, as I have largely stopped watching broadcast TV, I have turned to YouTube for my cooking show fix. I am a big fan of Chef John and Food Wishes, Babish, and Sam The Cooking Guy. One of STCG’s episodes last week was for a homemade chicken parm, and it got me hankering for one REAL bad. However, we don’t have a deep fryer, and the appeal of the chicken parm definitely comes from the deep fried chicken cutlet. My wife wanted to go out for dinner on Friday night because she’d had a very stressful week, so I seized the opportunity and convinced her we needed to go to a local spaghetti joint.
We went to Bertini’s in Salem, which has been in business for almost 80 years, so you know they must do something right. It’s still like 1979 or 80 in their dining room, and the crowd in the bar was bigger than the crowd in the dinig room, but no matter. A spaghetti joint can always be counted on for all the usual Italian-American favorites.
I had this good-looking chicken parm, a house salad of iceberg lettuce with creamy Italian dressing, a side of spaghetti, and a glass of Chianti. The only missing element was the red-checkered tablecloth. I’m not old enough to remember when Italian food was thought of as exotic, but I am old enough to remember when it was still a big deal to go to an Italian restaurant like this. Now they are actually kind of a rarity, and this kind of food is the province of pizza joints, In fact, I imagine this restaurant really survives on its pizza business and the bar room. Anyway, it certianly hit the spot, and I had a slice of lemon meringue pie for dessert and went home well-fed.
Ribollita is a traditional Italian soup or stew featuring white beans, kale, and other veg, usually served with a bit of bread floated in it and topped with cheese. This recipe also included some ham to add a little smoky flavor. I like the combo of cannellini beans and kale (or spinach), and make a couple of recipes that use them as the central ingredients. This particular recipe was an “easy” version that you could throw together, I think from the New York Times Cooking section. I feel like people think soup is one of those things that takes hours, but a lot of soups can be made quickly if you have the ingredients on hand. Most soups and stews DO benefit from having some time to let the flavors meld, so you can make them ahead, let them rest in the fridge, and then eat them later to enjoy that enhancement, but you can usually whip them up and serve them immediately, as we did with this.