In this month's issue of Houstonia, I share picks for hometown classics that should pull at the heartstrings of folks from around the country. But I didn't include my own comfort food of choice. I used bagels to cover the needs of New Yorkers, but as a native of the NYC suburbs, there's something else even more soul-satisfying for me. When I need to eat my feelings, nothing hits the spot quite like a correctly prepared chicken Parmigiana.
For a variety of reasons, yesterday I found myself in need of a gustatory Xanax equivalent. Luckily, I was just weeks removed from a conversation with fellow New Yorker Ziggy Gruber of Kenny & Ziggy's regarding our native cuisine. He said that Romano's Pizza is such a faithful interpretation of a New York pizzeria that it draws him back more than once a week. Pizza is all well and good, and I'll likely be hit by a craving for a thin, chewy hand-tossed crust before long, but there has never been a time in my life when a fried, mozzarella-enveloped chicken breast wasn't my most direct route to a dopamine boost.
And now, thanks to Gruber, I have a reliable source. I had high hopes when I entered the pizzeria to find the lighting dark, the tables mostly covered with un-bussed food and the counter help overwhelmed and cranky. Just like home. The $18 price tag for a chicken Parm was a bit of a surprise, until I realized the heft of the meal, which includes a basket of warm garlic bread and a salad bedecked in triangles of Provolone and salami.
When the server brought the main course to the table, the aroma that came with it was correct: Not just tomato sauce, but the same simple, smooth puckery one I would have made. No thickeners or sweeteners here. The spaghetti (ziti is available as an alternative) was softened just a touch beyond al dente, which is also what I would have expected back home. The chicken was flattened so that it was little more than a toothsome vessel for crispy breading, just as it should be. A layer of the tangy sauce covered it, sealed in by a bouncy jacket of milky mozzarella.
I wouldn't have minded if the cheese had been browned a hair more, but otherwise, the dish was everything that I hoped it would be. I think it would be perfectly legitimate for the sign at Romano's to include "Mental Health Professionals," alongside "Pizza" and "Cucina Italiana." The cooks are my favorite practitioners, at least.