Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Little Italy in Willy, Mad-town

Saturday was typical in our household: Dr. B went to work, I amused myself doing very little at home. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie, with my hair drying naturally (and hanging in my eyes), I watched stupid movies on TV and avoided cleaning the house.

For variety, I had a can of Spaghetti-O's with meatballs for lunch. (Note: they've added more meatballs now, so you don't have to work to get one ball in every spoonful anymore. Good call!)

Dr. B finally called at 7, and said research wasn't panning out the way he wanted and he was sorry he was 2 hours late coming home, as usual. He offered to take me out to dinner to make up for it.

So, I put on my "Hot Mom" dress (a black, faux-wrap maternity dress found on a clearance rack at Target a few months ago for 6 bucks), tights, boots, and silver jewelry, styled my hair and got ready to paint the town.

And I waited for him to call to say he was ready.

And waited.

By the time he called me to pick him up, and we had started out, it was closer to 8:30. He was crabby, I was indecisive, and we drove around for a good half hour looking for something "mediterranean" and "cheap". We're not big chain-restaurant fans, and are lucky that in Madison there are lots of local places to choose from, though they are spread all over the "76 square miles surrounded by reality" (Madison's moniker). Our favorite pizza place, Greenbush Tavern, was packed, so we headed down Willy Street (Williamson), then Atwood, and then turned around and headed back. As we drove, Dr. B was lamenting the fact that there were no little Mom-n-Pop restos a few blocks from home here in the US; in France we were able to walk a few minutes and have a great meal, but here we had to hunt and drive and search to find anything. "There are only like 10 places in the world where that's the norm, honey," I said. "Well, I want to live in one of those ten places!!!" he answered.

We kept driving. We were nearing our neighborhood again, when Dr. B said, "Let's try that other pizza place on Willy. I'm too tired to keep looking." Three blocks from home was a new Italian place that looked a little divey from the outside, but it was 9 PM and we were desperate. We pulled in.

La Rocca's Pizzeria is housed in an old appliance store (known as the Jesus appliance store because of a former mural depicting a cross rising out of a washing machine.) The décor is not Madison-über-trendy, but it's clear they made an attempt, and it's clean and well-cared for. We took a seat, and opened the menu.

The main dishes looked delish, but with our limited fundage and the late hour, we decided to go for a pizza. We ordered a large La Rocca, with cheese, sausage, ham, mushroom, black olives, bacon, and quattro formaggi. Dr. B went for a Pabst (he likes it. I'm not sure why.) Water for me, due to my evening heartburn. (Ahhh, pregnancy.)

As we waited, we enjoyed the music (Sirius adult coffee-house style, though a little too loud) and talked about our days. Well, his day. Mine wasn't very interesting, though I was able to report that Lucy had played with the cute pit bull puppy on our block named Brownie, and that the package was acquired on our walk. Dr. B discussed his research with me, and we watched the activity in the open kitchen. I wasn't quite sure, but I thought that the owners were not speaking English. This was a good sign. The older man that seemed to be in charge kept coming out to sit at tables with customers as they left--chatting and laughing with them like old friends.

Our pizza came, and it looked fantastic. Crust was not thin, not too thick, and there were lots of toppings, but sliced small or thin so as not to overwhelm. It was delicious! Not greasy (despite the artery-clogging toppings), flavorful but not too much, wonderful, wheaty crust that you didn't leave behind when you got to the edge. A large was great plenty--I found that 2 slices (plus a little bit of another) was enough for me, and Dr. B had more (but he didn't have any lunch, save for a banana.) The rest came home with us. "Good for American-style Italian," said Dr. B, as we walked to the car. "Your parents would love it," I agreed. "Your mom especially. (Note: Dr. B's mom is a quarter Sicilian.) I really liked that place. It just felt right." (The only real complaint we had was that the waitress clearly wanted to go home, and kept giving us impatient and annoyed looks that we were still sitting there talking of all things, when it was 5 minutes to ten, which was closing time. But, she was young, and was likely impatient to get out to see her friends at the bar, so we packed up a few minutes early. I wasn't feeling particularly snarky, or I would have told her to go ahead and leave, that I would clean up.)

We got home, and Lucy demanded a walk from him, so I fired up Mac and did some looking. Turns out I was right. Vito and Caterina, the owners of La Rocca's, were both born in Sicily. They met here in the US (Rockford, IL, which has a lot of Italian immigrants), returned to Italy with their family for a time (where they opened a Chicago-style pizza place), but came back and decided to open a restaurant in Madison. Vito's hobby is pizza, and he's developed his recipe to suit American tastes. Caterina serves more traditional fare, including things that "somebody's aunt would make you in Sicily." Dr. B commented that he had wondered about it; the menu wasn't pasta pasta pasta and more pasta, which made him curious as to whether this might just be real Italian, not the Americanized version. "Real Italians like meat," he said. "That Bruciole looked awesome!"

They run their place like a Mom-n-Pop restaurant. (And I think it was probably their son who was back there helping cook, so it really is a Mom-n-Pop.) Just what we were looking for.

We'll be back. And when it's warmer, we'll walk over.

Next time, I'm getting the Bruciole and a homemade cannoli. Just like someone's aunt would make.

(PS: they deliver.)

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