Earlier today, an Italian friend of mine posted a link on Facebook; the headline was "17 Italian foods that aren't Italian at all." Things like Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Chicken Parmesan are called out for being impostors. My favorite comment on the post went, "these may not be real Italian foods but they are damn delicious!"
I won't try to pretend I'm some expert on what authentic Italian food is or isn't. I only know what I've been told by Italians or read in books and articles by Italians. But I am an expert in the delicacies of the Tri-State Area, and I will say that authentic Long Island cuisine includes lots of Fettuccine Alfredo, Spaghetti and Meatballs and Chicken Parmesan.
(By the way, this is what the Tri-State Area is if you're unfamiliar. It's a term all the traffic reporters and meteorologists use to talk about NYC and surrounding areas when there's a snowstorm and it's taking an hour to get across the GWB.) (Update: I just Googled it, and apparently there are lots of Tri State Areas, for example Alabama/Florida/Georgia. Um, what?) (Last parenthetical, I swear. Do you watch The Mindy Project? There's an episode where Danny Castellano is awkwardly hitting on a girl and says something like, "I grew up in the Tri-State Area... Did you grow up in any particular cluster of states?" It made me laaaugh and laaaugh.)
I'm betting that the majority of my blog readers are people who also grew up on Long Island/Staten Island/Jersey/Brooklyn/Queens, so let me just preach for the sake of those unlucky few in the minority. When you grow up on Long Island (or, y'know, the Tri-State Area), the default meal at a party is an Italian-American buffet feast. And there are a lot of parties. Every weekend was dotted with christenings, weddings, confirmations, bar/bat mitzvahs and sweet 16s. Imagine all of the aluminum trays of "Sunday Salad," eggplant rollatini, and ziti that you could possibly want, warming over Sternos. I recall one bat mitzvah where I had motzah ball soup. Otherwise, ziti.
You always got these party meals catered by a pizzeria, not a fancy restaurant. Everyone had a favorite pizzeria, every one named after a dude.
"Did they get the food from Mario's?"
"No, I think they got it from Jimmy's."
"Oh, Vincent's would have been better."
There was always way too much food and so if the party was at your house, you were eating soggy eggplant for like a week-- and it was fantastic.
Parm, a project by two guys from Queens, is trying to capture these flavors, and this nostalgia. If we're measuring success by how tasty the food is and how lovely it is to sit inside the large, warmly-lit restaurant, then, yes, they are very successful. The eggplant parm, perfectly fried and tender without being mushy, gives way to your fork without the cheesy tower ever toppling over. The calamari is the best I've ever had. I don't really have much else to say cause it's perfect and there's no use writing words; you should just go eat it. The most nostalgic moment was the Sunday Salad, which is probably repulsive to actual Italians, but I love the iceberg lettuce drenched-in-dressing. Also, the brownie with espresso ice cream was so cute and so American. I loved it. Our server was very sweet and dressed in a starched white shirt. An elderly couple sitting behind us complained to each other about everything in a very Upper West Side way. It feels like home.
If I have a complaint, Parm is kind of overpriced. I could definitely get four times the amount of eggplant from Vinny's for half the price and it would be equally soul-pleasing. But perhaps it's justified by the obvious care they put into every plate of food and the added time it certainly takes to get it all Goldilocks levels of just right.