When I was a kid, growing up in Fells Point, a trip to Little Italy (or, as we pronounced it, "Lil Lily") was usually reserved for special occasions. Once in a while we'd get a pizza from DiNitti's, or a bag of ossa di morte ("bones of the dead" - very hard, clove-flavored cookies) from Vaccaro's, but we wouldn't have a sit-down dinner at any of our favorite red-sauce joints unless it was for a special reason. Ok, so sometimes the occasion was merely that we wanted to get dressed up and go out to eat. If we felt really fancy, we'd go to Vellegia's, which seemed to us to be the poshest restaurant in the area, otherwise we'd go to Sabatino's or Chiapparelli's.
Vellegia's is gone now, but Chip's and Sab's live on. Recently, Chip's offered a Groupon, which I snatched up, knowing that Mr Minx had never experienced any of the classic Little Italy restaurants. We had an opportunity to use it for his birthday - a very special occasion indeed.
While offering many of the same classics as every other restaurant in the neighborhood (ravioli, veal Parmesan, chicken Marsala), Chip's menu has been modernized a bit and offers new classics like stuffed portobello mushrooms and grilled salmon, along with crab cakes and a rib-eye for those weirdos who go to Italian restaurants but not to eat Italian food. Don't get me wrong - Chip's is still very much an old-school restaurant: the bread basket contained squishy Italian bread and a handful of prepackaged butter pats. You'll find no plates of artisinal olive oil enhanced with house-dried herbs here! And every entrée automatically comes with the famous garlic-and-cheese-laden Chiapparelli's salad, practically a meal in itself.
Honestly, after the giant salad and the rich pasta, I could have called it quits, but I had ordered an entrée, too. While not normally a fan of veal, I was in the mood for brasciole. Chip's version is rolled with some prosciutto and served with a generous portion of old-school potato gnocchi and a brightly-flavored marinara. Because it's so easy to make tough gnocchi, I find that most cooks try too hard to achieve the opposite effect. Eating a bowl of squishy pillows can occasionally get boring. One bite of Chiapparelli's gnocchi, however, took me instantly back to my childhood, to gnocchi that actually required chewing, and that occasionally caused an upset tummy after overindulgence. This is a good thing. Too much of one, it seems, because after three pieces of pasta and a quarter of the meat, I was done.
Mr Minx didn't have as difficult a time scarfing down most of his veal Saltimbocca, with spinach, proscuitto, and Parmesan in a Marsala wine sauce that tasted as if it contained a (un)healthy amount of butter. While not the most elegant version of saltimbocca, it was a hearty, rib-sticking dish, with tender veal and perfectly-cooked spinach.
We went home that evening very full, quite content, and reeking of garlic. And with a large bag of leftovers (including an entire salad, since the pasta dish was considered an entrée) that would constitute my lunch for the remainder of the week. I don't know why we don't eat in Little Italy more often. Next time - Sab's.
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