They say a good man is hard to find, but you know what’s even tougher? A good mozzarella stick.
You scour the city looking for the perfect logs of deliciousness, but something is always wrong. They’re rubbery with a plasticky snap. You detect a lingering freezer burn. The batons arrive overly greasy, weighed down in batter. You lament the watery marinara sauce to your friends.
But then, after nearly giving up hope, you meet the perfect specimen: pliant and gooey with a whisper of crunch, yet astonishingly creamy and milky. Your love affair begins at Parm, the new spin-off of Torrisi Italian Specialties, located next door to the original Mulberry Street restaurant in Nolita. Chef-owners Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s sequel is more laid-back, with a vintage coffee-shop look. Tiny Formica tables are clustered around an open kitchen in the center of the restaurant, which is decked out in 1960s cocktail-print wallpaper.
A hodgepodge of Italian-American sandwiches, red-sauce seafood standards, and a $25 nightly special compose the menu. Although such heftier plates—like Tuesday’s meaty aged chopped steak or Friday’s zuppa di pesce (fish stew)—are certainly respectable offerings, Parm is at its finest come lunch. The sammys and snacks shine, and the cramped quarters—mostly two-tops plus a long counter with ruby-hued backless stools—discourage leisurely group dining.
Begin your feast with the namesake sandwiches ($8 on a roll, $11 on a hero, $15 as part of a platter with salad or ziti). Best of all is the meatball parm, though the chicken one certainly triumphs, too. Both are enshrouded in more mozzarella and slathered with tomato sauce—expect to go through a hefty stack of napkins. Equally dressed up is the Feast of San Gennaro staple of sausage and peppers, only this version has gone gourmet. Ditto the garlic bread deluxe ($7), paired with velvety ricotta for scooping. And, yes, you’ll still find the turkey combos made famous at Torrisi.
Baked clams ($10) are another hit. No tough, tasteless nuggets here, just barely cooked bivalves on the half shell topped with browned bread crumbs, paddling in a shallow pool of lemon, parsley, and garlic. A basket of lightly coated calamari ($12), meanwhile, proves that squid aren’t born chewy but rather made that way by evil cooks.
A few quibbles: The Saratoga club ($12) is super mayo-heavy, though my inner fourth-grader appreciated the chips tucked in between the toast slices. Iceberg-based Sunday salad ($6) and baked ziti with gravy ($12) both erred precariously close to deli take-out. An overly salty salami, pesto, and soft-scrambled-egg tartine ($5) didn’t jibe conceptually. And the chefs are a wee bit stingy in portioning out the $5 vegetables, which include cold fried brussels sprouts, broccoli rabe in spicy tomato sauce, and crunchy B&G–brand pepper poppers. (Yum.)
But Parm succeeds. The grub is comfortingly familiar yet executed in a way that makes you realize what you’ve actually been missing all along. Case in point: the ice cream cake decked out in rainbow sprinkles ($10), a/k/a your must-order dessert. This six-inch-tall wedge frosted in a Cool Whip–like coating and crowned with a maraschino cherry pays homage to the Baskin-Robbins–filled birthdays of America’s youth. Only here, the homemade frozen layers of chocolate, pistachio, and strawberry are to the 31 flavors as diamonds are to cubic zirconia. Actually, screw CZ. Acrylic rhinestones.
For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at voicefoodblog.com. Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.