Monday, August 22, 2011

#26 He Listens to My Grandmother

My grandmother is famously known to base most of her decisions on either what she sees on TV or hears from someone who appears of a snobbishly rich status. This usually leads to a lot of nonsense and comical conversation which include the eventual realization from her that the famous person she is basing her choice on is in fact not the originator of whatever it is that they are currently promoting.

However, (ah, however) occasionally she makes a decision that proves in the end to be worth all the status quo hullabaloo that my family is forced to listen to quite frequently.

After my grandfather passed away in 2005, my husband and I started to take my grandmother to Atlantic City every so often. She would reminisce about going with my grandfather and how they would always follow the same dining routine: lunch at Pickles in Bally's Casino and then dinner picked up at the Columbus General Store on their way back home. Yet, she would also mention a little restaurant that they always passed, one which he would never take her to. My grandfather was very set in his ways, and unchangeable, unless it was his choice to be changed. Thus, he seldom gave in to such bizarre suggestions as going to a different restaurant.

How my grandmother knew of the restaurant is quite another story. One involving gangsters, a girlfriend, and the desert. Her memory of wanting to go and never being given the chance led us to stop there one night on our way home from Atlantic City.

Thank you Gram.

Without her wacky desires and fantasies of glamour, I never would know the goodness that is Joe Italian's Maplewood Inn. It is quite the opposite of glamour, however, I assume the person who once told her of it must have herself been rather glamorous to have convinced my grandmother to want to go there. Perhaps. The atmosphere and decor produce an instant homey feel with the restaurant seating probably no more than 150 people tops (and that's counting the bar). There are two rooms with sit down tables, however, it is very tight. Arriving exactly at dinner time is not a good choice, unless you like squishing behind those who are sitting comfortably at the bar as you wait for a table to clear.

Personally, I don't mind. I tend to grow extremely tired of only having chain restaurants available as a decent choice for a dinner out. Nothing against them, but I'd much rather have something exclusive to my area, which doesn't sacrifice price or flavor for being so.

Dinner always starts with salad tossed in their house dressing which is perfect. Alongside comes a loaf of fresh bread, still warm, and slices of garlic bread.

If you're feeding me before I've put in my order, you are automatically a winner in my book. But remember, a winner with flavor.

I cannot order anything but the Chicken Parmigiana here. I've tried, honest I have. I ordered Chicken and Broccoli Alfredo a few times and it was a perfect blend of creaminess, pasta, and veggies, but I have always had to return to the Chicken Parmigiana for one reason: they pound this bad boy ridiculously thin. It is so thin you might almost think for a second that they thought you ordered the veal. But you didn't. The breading is crisp, the cheese is evenly spread, and the sauce is fresh and sweet. I always get their homemade pasta on the side, but you can pick from an assortment of other sides if you are crazy and don't like pasta.

(I got so hungry I forgot to take a picture of my plate when it was beautiful, but the above picture will have to suffice. It comes from my husband's plate and yes, those are french fries hiding in the back).

My husband usually gets "The Fisherman's Delight" which includes an assortment of fish: lobster, king crab, clams, scallops, and shrimp served kettle style. The first time he ordered this was the first time I tried scallops. From that day of I dubbed scallops the filet mignon of fish. Can there be anything better?

Dessert at Joe's is, of course, to die for. Just don't order a cappuccino to go with your tiramisu or you might have to wait for a while (especially if it is a busy night). All their desserts are homemade and complete perfection.

The cost is probably what will make it or break it for most people. My husband's Fisherman's Delight costs $26.99 which is fair for all that fish. My Chicken Parmigiania comes in at $16.99. This really isn't horrible. If we look over at a chain restaurant like Olive Garden (who, yes, I do love despite that they are a chain and despite that people swear that they are not true Italian food) they are serving the same meal for $13.95. So it's $3.04 cheaper there. Just remember that the cooks in the back of Olive Garden aren't lovingly pounding your chicken paper thin. No, they are pulling it from a bulk bag that says, "Chicken Parm" on it and then throwing it into the oven.
(*Note: I do not know this for a fact, but one can only assume...)

In respects to a true Italian meal, Joe Italiano's is where it's at. Cost, flavor, and location all taken into consideration, it wouldn't take a trip to Atlantic City to get me to drive the 45 minutes from my house to eat here on any given night of the week.

Again, thank you Gram.

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