Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pete's Parm

You'd think, having a healthy dose of Italian heritage infused into her genes, Our Daughter would know where and when to order an Italian entree.

Not that I'm any connoisseur of world cuisine -- and there's absolutely no Italian blood in my veins -- but I did grow up on Long Island not far from Manhattan. You couldn't spit in our neighborhood without hitting a pizza parlor or an Italian restaurant run by someone who looked like an extra from one of the "Godfather" movies. Add a few hundred randomly placed delicatessans, each serving a meatball sub more delicious than the other, and it's almost impossible not to develop a keen appreciation for properly prepared Italian food.

Twenty-three years ago, when I moved from the Empire State to the Tar Heel State, the lack of diversification among restaurants was the most difficult change to tolerate. We were lucky to have a McDonald's, let alone a great place to get pizza.

My Mother-in-Law used to have little sympathy for my complaints. She had moved to North Carolina in the early 1970s and one of her favorite stories to tell was about the time she went to the local supermarket and asked for help locating bread crumbs. She would roll out her best Yankee impersonation of Southern drawl when she mimicked the confused store clerk: "You want cruuuuuumbs? Of bray-uhd?"

Her story always reminded me of the time back in the early 90s when I made a sales trip to Charlottesville, VA. Not knowing the area, I asked the front desk attendant at the hotel if there were any good ethnic restaurants nearby. The poor girl stared at me like I had asked her to provide detailed instructions for nuclear fusion. After a moment's reflection, she offered this nugget: "There's a Shoney's down the street if you like country." If nothing else, I was glad to know someone had developed a work-placement program for ex-Hee Haw Honeys.

Over the years, our community has been blessed with the addition of a handful of eateries that understand tomato sauce and ketchup are very different things. And they have names that lead you to suspect they might know what they're doing -- Vito's, Valenti's, Fratello's. Let's face it, if an Italian restaurant has a single-word name ending in a pronounced vowel followed by a possessive apostrophe, it's already halfway along the road to success. This is a fact Our Daughter should have learned by now.

So, when her boyfriend's parents took her to dinner not long ago to a restaurant in a metal building on the side of a semi-rural highway, she should have known better than to order chicken parm at a placed called Pete's. You don't order chicken parm at a restaurant called Pete's. You order chicken fried steak, or country fried steak, or fried shrimp. Heck, order just about anything fried you care to from Pete and he'll probably do it extremely well. Like hushpuppies! Pete probably has perfect hushpuppies, but I promise you parmesan was not a staple product in his parent's pantry.

And even though Pete's name ends in a vowel, it's a silent vowel. Had the restaurant's name been Pietro's, then you could have made an argument for ordering chicken parm, or saltimbocca, or even a linguini appetizer. But it isn't, so you can't.

When Pete attempts chicken parm, you get country fried chicken and a red-colored sauce topped with a cheese bearing little resemblance to parmesan. And when that plate is dropped in front of you, you're getting exactly what you deserve for ordering it from a guy named Pete.

Clearly, we have failed to properly educate Our Daughter.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler


  1. So true! And the reason this NY snob is never leaving. Can you imagine the difficulties of getting good sushi???


  2. This is too true Mark. There is nothing worse in my travels than to have the locals direct me to the Olive Garden in town insisting it is the "best Italian you can get". :(

  3. I've eaten at the Olive Garden more times than I can count, but I've never considered it Italian food. Not when the waiter asks if I'd like a bowl of pasta faggy-oh-ly.

  4. Sometimes, when people point out the Olive Garden, they pronounce "Italian" with a long i at the beginning. That's the sure sign that they are, indeed, experts at international cuisine...;)