For people who’ve traveled to Italy, the thought of others positively embracing American-Italian food seems like a kick-in-the-face. Back in the day, the wealthier north made a conscious effort to retain authenticity while the humble and desperately poor Italian immigrants of the south did anything to support the hustle, professin’ “eat here or we’ll both starve!” (saw that quote on the back of a t-shirt at a Potbelly sandwich Shop). It was fusion before fusion and NO ONE was to speak of it ever again let alone, praise its existence.
But at a certain point in time, people should reconsider the importance authenticity and instead welcome the greatness of Italian-American cuisine. We must remember that endless breadsticks and salads did not originate in the heart of Tuscany (no matter how many times that commercial is played throughout the night).
Parm on Mulberry Street has eagerly embraced the art of Italian-American treats. Although classics like club sandwiches and ice cream cake are easily available throughout the entire country, Chefs Torrisi and Carbone strive to serve the best interpretations of these classics.
Take fried calamari for example. Standard squid rings are bathed in selzer before being dipped in rice flour. Although delicious calamari is available at any standard Italian-American restaurant, let us remember the soft and delicate, light and fluffy texture of the fried rings at Parm. To kick up the heat index, the calamari is fried with Cubanelle and Italian long hot peppers and then sprinkled with salt and chopped parsley. The marinara (save it for the pizza knots) is good, but housemade Tabasco mayo sauce is the winner.
Pizza knots are also much better than what you dreamed of while eating Pizza Hut Cheesy Bites. It’s light and airy unlike the Bagel Bites that I used to throw down ten years ago. With the aroma of oregano and onion powder mellifluously flowing through each piece, it’s hard to put down at the beginning of the meal (dunk it in the leftover marinara sauce from the calamari). Do note that the appeal of the pizza knots slowly begin to diminish once you move on the other portions of the meal and need to loosen a few notches on your belt.
Parm’s sandwiches are not only appealing because of taste, but also because of its structural integrity. Club sandwiches are usually split into quarters, but the Torrisi/Carbone duo leave it in halves to maintain a strong foundation (my friends and I tried cutting into fourths. We lost).
The Saratoga Club (named after the birth of the potato chip and club sandwich in Saratoga Springs, New York) is essentially a chicken salad sandwich with standard Italian-American seasonings like dried oregano, celery, onion and black pepper. Seems standard at first, but please welcome sweet-cured bacon with a crushed layer of potato chips into the mix. The crunchy, sweet bites of the Saratoga Club are more than memorable. It is, by far, the best dish of the night.
There are three options at Parm. You can get it on a platter, a hero, or a semolina roll. Portions and prices respectively fall in that order. The platter comes with three sausages, split in half and grilled crisp. The sweet and soft essence of the peppers and onions compliment the strong, herbaceous aroma of the Italian sausage. Papa LaFrieda’s recipe is a delicious, well-kept secret.
The turkey at Parm is certainly delicious. It’s juicy and tender and is served with a sweet glaze like the big bird you’ve always wanted for Thanksgiving dinner. Although the time and effort the team puts into the turkey is apparent, there are other (more enticing) options on the menu to try. Turkey lovers, however, will find solace after their first bite.
This week, Ryan Sutton of Bloomberg also reviewed Parm, praising this meatball sandwich as the world’s best $9 hamburger. According to the staff, the strong 2 ½ star review got all the bankers on Wall Street all excited and caused a big buzz during lunch hour.
When I hear Meatball Parmigiana Roll, I instinctively associate the name with a sandwich from Subway. The meatball parm here is so successful is because of its structural integrity (just like the Saratoga Club!) The ball is flattened (like a burger patty) to prevent any messy slippage. The meat is still a perfect pink and soft after getting a bath in a 180 degree CVap oven for forty minutes. This oven allows the temperature and texture of the meat to stay consistently soft instead of turning tough and dry. The mozzarella on top is made in-house (of course) and the sandwich roll is from Parisi Bakery, three minutes away from the restaurant. It’s sweet, it’s savory, and it melts in the mouth right from the first bite.
When I think of ice cream cake, I think of the hard and chalky Oreo cookie Ice Cream cake we get from Baskin Robbins during every family gathering. The ice cream cake at Parm is so good because it actually isn’t ice cream. It also doesn’t have any cake.
The pastry chef uses a creamer, softer gelato and then tops each individual layer with crumbled chocolate cookies. The outer layer is iced with non-dairy whipped frosting and then adorned of sprinkles and a maraschino cherry. So appealing, so delicious.
The no reservation system and the limited number of chairs at Parm make it very difficult to dine at a table during peak hours. However, the bar has comfortable stools available and serves the full original menu. Another upside is that you’ll get a better look into the open kitchen.
While the Torrisi/Zalaznick/Carbone team gears up to open their next restaurant in November, I’ll casually be lining up on Mulberry (more than often) to get my hands on a Parm sandwich. It’s scrumptious enough to make an Italian grandma proud.