If there’s a silver lining to the 80-MPH cloud that was the recent derecho storm that tore through the Mid-Atlantic – leaving residents and utility companies thoroughly gob-smacked – it’s that at least lots of people have interesting stories to tell. Lengthy power outages during the heat wave, desperate searches for ice and generators, tree limbs and shingles exchanging places… My tale, however, is perhaps one of the most harrowing to come out of the storm: It interfered with dinner!
On the way out of the house to go to Sal’s for dinner that Friday, my wife looked up to the gloaming sky and said, “Hey, do you think it looks like a storm’s coming?” I followed her gaze upward, shrugged and said, “Nah, it’s nothing. Probably won’t even rain.”
Well, at our house at least, it didn’t rain…
We were sitting comfortably at Sal’s (at Kroger square in Bonsack), enjoying a drink and that pleasant anticipation that comes with looking over the menu in a restaurant you’ve never visited, when the lights began to flicker. A moment later, a couple of leaves blew past the front window. I had just enough time to have an inward laugh at everybody overreacting to a tiny summer storm, before the place was plunged into darkness. There is nothing more fun for restaurant folks than a blackout. As long as by “fun” you mean “horrible.”
My wife and I quickly decided that the best way to help was to get out of the way, and we asked how we could go about settling our tab. Gennaro Scotto, son of the eponymous Sal, laughed (he laughs a lot), and said, “Well, the cash registers are down, so I guess we’ll have to operate on the honor system. See you again soon!”
Long story short, he did. We had been really excited about our menu choices before the lights went out, and as we dodged fallen trees along Orange Avenue, we vowed to return.
Two weeks later we were back, and we were armed with a pretty good idea of what to order, so by the time our drinks (stunt-doubles of the ones we’d had the week before) arrived, we were ready to mambo Italiano. We started off with an order of bruschetta al Granchio, which was toasted sliced Italian bread, topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic, roasted red peppers, basil, capers and fresh mozzarella cheese. A lot of places will serve bruschetta on bread that you can tell was repurposed from other missions; or on stale, crumby melba rounds. But these, well, the crisp yet soft bread could have stood on its own without any adornment. We also enjoyed a round of fried calamari. This was good, though not a standout. However, our waiter recommended a chunky, spicy fra diavlo sauce for dipping, and this really made the dish for us.
The house salads that preceded our dinners were a bit pedestrian; mostly iceberg lettuce with a bit of shredded carrots, a cherry tomato, a bit of sliced mushroom. However, our waiter again came to the rescue, recommending the sun-dried tomato and basil dressing, and let me tell you, that stuff would have made a plate of dandelions and lawn clippings taste good.
My wife loved her chicken saltimbocca, a chicken breast sautéed in Marsala wine and served with prosciutto, spinach, mozzarella and mushrooms over pasta with tomato sauce, saying that it suffered only from having a bit too much pasta to work through comfortably.
Being a good Italian boy named Tony (we’re actually Scots-Irish; if you can get my mom to tell you how I got to be named Tony, I’d love to hear the story), I went for the Homemade Meat Lasagne. I’ve got to say, I wasn’t sorry. It was as big as a toddler’s head and stuffed with savory cheese, beef, tomato sauce and spices. It was some of the best lasagne I’ve ever had, but don’t tell Mom!