Saturday, January 27, 2007

Last Meal

If you had to choose your last meal, would it be an easy choice? For someone who loves food the way that I do, it seems that that decision would be a toughie. Not at all, actually. For me, the clear cut winner is Veal Parmigiana with Raviolis from Spirito's Restaurant in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

According to my mom, I've been eating at Spirito's since I was 3 months old. Apparently I would gnaw and teethe on the end of a loaf of Italian bread while my parents ate their dinner. We passed that tradition off to Julie and Z...they've been going there since they were babies as well. When I was old enough to chew, Veal Parmigiana became my meal of choice. My dad would (and still does for tradition's sake) cut it up for me.

Going to Spirito's is like stepping back in time. The decor, the food, and the quirks (like no butter for your bread and no grated cheese provided for pizza) are exactly what they have always been with the exception of some new "old-time pictures of Spirito family and Elizabeth in its heyday." In addition, the surrounding neighborhood remains a snapshot of what the greater area of the town once was. I can remember passing a building en route to the restaurant that my dad tells me was his home for much of his childhood. (Third floor, right Dad?)

I always feel a connection to Elizabeth when I go there (which is not nearly often enough for my tastebuds!). It could be because both of my parents spent a large portion of their lives there and I sense the family history. It could also be because of the close proximity to my childhood home of Linden...we went to Elizabeth fairly often when I was a child. In either case, its gritty texture and strong sense of ethnic identity appeals to me. While I am not Italian, I love to see the small Italian social clubs on the street corners. The Italian ice shop still makes ices that are loaded with fresh fruit (watch out for the seeds!).

While veal may not be your meat of choice, I challenge you to take a ride to Spirito's some time. If the waiting line is out the door, don't worry because 1) it will move fast and 2) it will be well worth your time. At $14.95 there is no better deal in terms of taste. But no, my dad will not cut it up for you...he only does that for me! (It's an only child thing...)



At 8:44 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

OK, Des...I have to cheat on this one. It depends on where in the world I am. I mean, what if you can't get to Spirito's?

In DC, it would have to be a dish of Chicken Brunello at Mamma Lucia in Rockville. But that would neglect A&J's awesome Northern Chinese dim sum, Bombay Gaylord's magic with the Tandoori, and a host of other favorites, including, of course, the ever-present Five Guys.

In New Jersey, take me to the water for some Keyport Fishery, rebuilt and back in the running after last year's devastating fire.

In North Carolina, its gotta be good ol' Southern cooking--Bullock's, K&W. Or, of course, a trip out to Char-Grill.

Hey, we could be traveling, you know. So take me to Ivar's Salmon House, on Seattle's Lake Washington (let's sample some tasty Copper River product). Or let's just sip some oolong cha, gongfu style, all day long at Cloud Nine...Taishan, here we come!


At 12:26 PM, Blogger Donna said...

OK Guys, before I blow my diet(again), I think you two could write a book while traveling across country next time. How about "35 best places to eat in 35 days"? And of course a follow up "35 places not to eat in 35 days" Because if you are lucky enough to find great places to eat, I'm sure there have been a few stinkers along the way. And Desi I remember going to Spiritos and waiting on line. I didn't know it was still there. And Steve thanks for the info we didn't know Keyport Fishery was reopened. My Steve and I haven't been there in a few years. How many days to lent? I feel a need to go to Keyport.
Hey and do you guys remember the Robert E Lee? A little place hidden away under the rt 35 bridge in Morgan. It was one of our favorites when we started dating before it burnt down. ~Donna
**Oh and my kids new favorite, while in California we found Jack in the Box. OK I know it's fast food but it brought back memories from our childhood. Especially for me with my grandma Prego. Every Saturday on the way to Menlo Mall my grandmother would take us for lunch. She loved those tacos. So of course while in CA we ate 3 out of 8 lunches there. Hey where else can you feed a family of 5 for $20. And I even got a 'Jack in the Box' Antenna topper. Plus a flood of happy memories.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Dear Steve,
Any of those choices would fit nicely into second place. I would even venture to add a few White Castles to the list. But I stand firm by my choice and only wish that Spirito's would serve some fine Pepsi products (and some dessert!...There is no dessert menu at Spirito's!)
Love, Desi

At 8:42 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Dear Donna,
What is it about food and memories? I totally agree with the tie between them. (Grandma Prego rocked the house, by the way!) And as for Jack-in-the-Box, I can only remember one in Roselle. I remember ordering into the clown face! It was only there for a short part of my childhood.
I so look forward to hearing about your California excursion. In and Out Burger was our hamburger of choice while we were there. Tasty and really cheap.
As for dives, one of the worst was House of Pasta in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We had to send our food back two or three times before it wasn't frozen in the middle. I guess the name of the place should've tipped us off but on a college student's salary, it sounded good at the time! I guess we've been pretty lucky otherwise!
Love, Desi

At 9:06 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

Hey Donna. Yeah, I remember the Robert E. Lee. In fact, that was a regular stop for the Balla family when we were kids. My dad used to make a big deal out of how he could finish off an entire twin lobster dinner. (I was not impressed...hated lobster!) And, for some reason, as I'm typing, I'm having a memory of eating my first parfait there...weird how that works.

OK, I'll add one more place to the list, in the spirit of Donna's idea to do a travel-eats book. Las Cuertas, in Albuquerque, is an excellent example of New Mexico cuisine (Before the trip, I didn't even know there was such a thing!) We went there two nights in a row...maybe the best food of the entire trip.

The worst food we had on the trip, I think Desi will agree, was in San Simeon, California (where the Sea Lions are on the beach). The place was so bad that I have completely blocked its name from my memory bank!


At 10:13 AM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

It's the second floor, Des
Love, Dad


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