Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lackawanna, Layered Lasagna, And The Biggest Meatball You've Ever Seen

Regular readers will know that I'm a food junkie, and watch a lot of Food Network programming on television. One of the shows I have found that I really enjoy is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives featuring Guy Fieri, which sees him traveling across the USA highlighting tiny places you might never have heard of otherwise. Every time there's a place that I see that I would like to actually go to, I find it online and bookmark it for potential future information if I'm in that specific city.

A while back, my girlfriend Devena told me about an episode she had seen about an Italian restaurant just outside of Buffalo, New York, called Mulberry Italian Ristorante. I found the episode online and checked it out, and knew from the moment I saw it that it would be our next trip. (video is embedded at the end so you can see for yourself)

We decided to go this week, and with our trusty Google Maps directions in hand, and a full appetite, we headed off for the bustling community of Lackawanna, New York. Now, before I get into the actual restaurant experience itself, I'm going to perform a community service for anyone who actually decides to go to Mulberry based on this post.

While Google Maps will give you a list of convoluted instructions on where to turn and how far to go, etc..., unless you feel like being diverted through the construction zones, coastal roadways, and bridges of Buffalo's Outer Harbour, you can ignore them all and just do the following: 1) Get on the Buffalo Skyway, 2) Turn left on Madison, 3) Turn Left on Walnut/Jackson.

That's it. I didn't need a page-and-a-half of instructions that took me OFF the road I needed to be on, and into a scene that looked like something off of the second season of The Wire. But thankfully, we figured it all out and ended up at Mulberry's right around dinner time on a Friday Night.

From the amount of cars that were there, it was obvious that this was a pretty hot spot. For those of you that are from my home town of Guelph, Ontario, the best way that I could describe it to you, is that the neighbourhood we were in looked like it was a lost block from The Ward (the heavily Italian neighbourhood in Guelph). Imagine if an Italian restaurant was supplanted right in the middle of the appliance factories and warehouses, and residential homes.

The restaurant itself was right on a residential street, with a gravel parking lot backing on what appeared to be a set of train tracks. I honestly felt like I was on the corner of Huron and Alice street in Guelph. There were kids running around the front of the restaurant from the house right next door, playing hide and seek at dusk. It was exactly like you would have seen back home.

And the deja vu continued as I entered the restaurant by opening a black screen door into a vestibule area, before I actually entered the restaurant. It was the exact same feeling, visually and physically, as walking into my Nonno's house when I was growing up...opening the door, walking about 10 feet, and turning right to open the door into the house.
Now, let me say that while the show is called Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, this restaurant is none of those things. It's a wonderful, traditional restaurant that could suit your needs, from casual to fine dining, and the quality of the food was fantastic.

Upon walking into Mulberry, I was immediately reminded of the decor of Carmine's, an Italian restaurant that my friend Norm took me to when we were in New York City last fall. There was a big bar area on the right as you walk in, and separate rooms off to the side, and in the back. We were seated in the back room, which was decorated with wonderful pictures of old-time New York.
Our server's name was Nicole, and we explained to her that it was our first time there, and how we had come from Canada after seeing the show. She was very friendly and helpful, and I knew we would feel at home when she was explaining about the homemade ricotta cheese. Not because it was homemade, but because of the way she said it. Not your anglocized (mangia-cake) way, but the old-school, traditional Italian, From-The-Sopranos pronunciation of "Rrri-Coatt."

This was going to be good.

We started off with a couple of appetizers: The Mulberry Meatball and The Mozzarella Russo. The Meatball was a no-brainer because that was the crux of the video, which you will see when you watch it, and The Mozzarella Russo was based on a recommendation from Nicole. For our entrees, Devena got the cheese ravioli (which came with another meatball), and I got the Lasagna, which that night was filled with layers of Double Meatballs, Sauteed Chicken, and Roast Pork.

The appetizers came first, and this meatball was unlike anything you've ever seen before. It was huge, and delicious: an amazing combination of beef and pork, the size of a softball. Not a baseball...a softball. The Mozzarella Russo was 2 big pieces of Mulberry's homemade mozzarella cheese, egg-battered and sauteed...and finished with capers and anchovies in a lemon butter wine sauce, with a full leaf of fresh basil on top. Here are pictures of both.

We devoured our appetizers, along with some nice fresh Italian bread that was perfect for dipping in the sauces of each. Looking at the size of the portions that were coming out to the tables surrounding us, we knew that we shouldn't be filling up on bread, and maybe the appetizers weren't a good idea, since we likely weren't going to be able to finish everything, but when you drive two hours for a meal, you might as well try as much as you can, right?

Each of our entrees came with a house salad, so that came out next, and I was pleased to see that it wasn't just a basic house salad, like you would normally see, consisting of iceberg lettuce, some shaved carrots and a tomato. Instead, this was a mix of different leafy greens, olives, carrots, homemade garlic bread croutons (which were delicious), and one of my absolute favourite things to include in a salad: chick peas. Huge bonus points from me after seeing that. I had my salad without dressing, of course, but all of their dressings are homemade as well, and based on Devena's assessement of the Homemade Creamy Italian, they're a big hit.

The entrees came next, and it was a lot of fun watching people look at the food as it comes out to the tables. The piece of lasagna that landed in front of me was, without a doubt, the biggest piece I have ever seen in my life. (you can choose a smaller size, or the regular size...I went with the regular size) With all due respect to my mom, it was the best piece of Lasagna I've ever had. It was amazing. Devena's cheese ravioli was also very good, and the sauce on both was a perfect compliment, with just enough garlic. We're both Italian, and we both love garlic, and we were really happy with the sauce.

We shared both entrees, but at the end of the meal, we still had about 1/3 of the lasagna left (see picture below), and hadn't touched the meatball that came with the ravioli, instead opting to take it back to the hotel with us for a midnight snack (we were staying over in Niagara Falls). We were legitimately stuffed, with no room for dessert. If we would have been going directly home, we would have ordered half a dozen meatballs to go.
Overall, it was a fantastic meal, from both a restaurant standpoint, and from the point of view of two traditional Italians who were expecting a meal that tasted like it could have come from our family homes 30 years ago. That sort of experience is worth a lot, and when you factor in how affordable the prices are, Mulberry is someplace that we will be going back to many many times. The Meatball is on the menu at $4.79, and the full serving of Lasagna is $17.99.

If I could offer one thing that I would do differently, it would be the option to drink Coke instead of Pepsi. So if Joe, or Nicole, or anyone else at Mulberry are reading this, if you happen to have a can of Coke and Diet Coke waiting in the back of the cooler for Devena and I next time we come in, you'll have two Canadians who are even more impressed than they are already, and that's saying a lot.

Check out the video below, and if you're up for some fantastic Italian food, give it a shot.
Mulberry Italian Ristorante on Urbanspoon


firecracker said...

How ironic it was for me to watch part of the Triple D (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) marathon today which showcased Mulberry Italian Ristorante and then to go on Facebook and see that two of my friends had been there the night before. It looks fabulous and I am planning on visiting there some day soon with Greg before a Sabres game. I too am a Food Junkie/ Foodie and find myself watching the food network probably way more then I should. Greg and I are both fans of Triple D so when we went to Texas earlier in the year we did some research on the show and went to Fred’s Texas CafĂ© and T-Bone Tom’s Steakhouse. Both great places. Thanks to Guy Fieri (host of Triple D) we now plan out where we will eat when we travel. Thank you Sean so much for the info about Mulberry’s. I will let you know how my experience goes…I will probably dream of it tonight

Anonymous said...

I'm cheering because I'm certain I've discovered our new Italian restuarant to eat at after our shopping trips to the Galleria Mall in Buffalo. Thanks Sean!

Jacqui Tedesco said...

Mmmm, those pictures look delicious. I'm sure Pete and I will have to stop there the next time we go over the border for shopping.
We'll feel like we just went a couple blocks away it sounds like!