We were back. After two years we’d returned. With visions of imported tiramisu dancing in our heads, recalling this column’s March ‘17 review: “Airy and creamy layers of ethereal custard swaddle soaked ladyfingers that, delightfully, hint of that all-too-uncommon boozy ablution of brandy.” Mmm … yeah; tiramisu all the way from Milan. Do you really need to import the egg-based mascarpone dessert across oceans to offer a brilliant menu item? Maybe, and maybe not. Either way, we couldn’t be happier.
Candidly, we hadn’t overly enjoyed our lunch back in that spring of 2017. The meatball sandwich offered “so little provolone it couldn’t be found,” while the $9 salad was “composed primarily of romaine lettuce, with so little of the advertised capicola that the near-flavorless provolone and half of a hardboiled egg seemed like an insult.” Ouch. So this time we thought, “How ‘bout dinner? And that Milanese tiramisu!”
While Little Italys across the nation have seen severe levels of attrition, with many longtime establishments forced to shutter, this family-run Italian-American deli is still the same as ever. Refrigerated coolers of this and that line the walls and counter, offering guests anything from cold-cuts of mortadella to cold Birra Moretti — this time we even spied a bottle of truffle oil.
The dining room was oddly quiet for a Friday evening, but no matter. One thing Mollica’s can be valued for is its takeout service. Fifteen minutes after the phoned-in order, our selections were waiting in a cardboard beer case emblazoned with the Fat Tire bike. Grab ’n’ go.
Italian-American is admittedly a food desert for the gluten-free, a sea of carbohydrates. Bread and butter, and linguini and pesto, tortellini and red-sauce, more linguini, this time with Alfredo and grilled chicken, then, that tiramisu. Mamma Mia! A more stereotypical Little Italy meal you could not find.
Dinner quickly edged out that past lunch as the superior meal. Sure, both cheese and meat versions of the tortellini were unremarkable. And, yes, the pesto was a bit heavy while lacking vitality (it would have benefited from more basil). But that Alfredo proved flavorfully rich and creamy with a true balance of fat and acid; the chicken was not overdone; and the linguini (unlike the tortellini) was expertly cooked.
The “sleeper” of the meal was an afterthought. We’re tacitly thinking, “Of course there’s a side-salad. They’re a nominal nod to healthy food — bypassed in favor of another slice of dessert.” It wasn’t the salad per se, rather the dressing. And before you think we’re getting “into the weeds,” be assured, we were Googling “parmesan-peppercorn dressing recipes” after the third bite.
As with the meal, we end with the tiramisu. The real question was: Had we overly romanticized the memory of the “imported from Milan” thing? Kind of like that college trip of ruck sacking on and off Italian trains — you remember the bottles of wine as you strolled the Mediterranean, but not so much the hostel’s bedbugs. Was the tiramisu really that good? The answer is easy: you can bet your last lira on it.