A little background about my father. Ernesto left Vicenza, Italy in 1970 at the age of 21 to come to Boston to become a Catholic priest. He met my mother in a “night club” in the basement of a church in the North End, she wooed him away from the cloth, they married in ’74, and they now live in Andover, MA. My mother is an excellent cook (she docked at Ellis island in ’59 coming from Calabria); my dad’s mother was an excellent cook; my mother’s mother is an excellent cook. My father has been fed delicious, homemade Italian cooking for the entirety of his life. He belongs to an association of Boston-based Italian food critics that go from Italian restaurant to Italian restaurant in the area, criticizing the authenticity of the restaurant’s offerings (e.g. this isn’t Amatriciana! Ma va! Where’s the guanciale? Too much oil! etc.. etc…). Why, God, why, did he – on the eve of running the Boston marathon no less- bring us, my mother, and three business partners from Italy (also running the marathon the next day) to Maurizio’s on Hanover St Sunday night? What noxious siren sang to him from the depths of their dining room?
“If that’s Bruschetta then my name is Leslie” my mother quipped as the appetizers arrived. The rest of the meal didn’t get any better. It can be summed up like so: excessive garlic, oodles of sauce months removed from actual tomatoes, soft unsalted pasta, and oil.
Don’t go. Or, at least, don’t go to eat.
Now, I don’t want to unfairly pick on Maurizio’s, in fact I don’t think Maurizio’s should be blamed for the food. Owners of infamous “red sauce” establishments in the North End know what good Italian food is and they most likely know how to make it. But why spend time and resources on cooking good food if you can sell the same quantity of bad food? If I can run down to Quincy Market, tell the guys on the truck to give me their worst tomatoes for free, cut them up, drown them in olive oil and garlic and dump it on a toasted week old baguette for $7, why wouldn’t I? What am I stupid? No, I am not stupid. Who am I to disappoint the couple sitting in my restaurant goo-goo ga-ga-ing over the sloppy melange I just served them?
The frustrating part for me is not that these restaurants exist – the owners should cook the food that sells the most – and it’s not that people patronize them – people should eat the food that they like to eat. It’s that these restaurants have co-opted and sullied a cultural identity and the customers buy into it. Customers think they’re having an Italian experience. There are accordions, pictures of Italy and husky waiters with accents as thick as the chest hair that billows from the tops of their t-shirts, etc… I find it inappropriate to couch food that is so far removed from Italian cuisine in this deceptive faux-Italian context. I would still eat PuPu platters even if they weren’t served in an environment denigrating rich and honored Chinese cultural traditions, and I imagine those who love the food in the North End would still eat it even if “That’s amore” weren’t playing on loop in the dining room.