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Empty plates were whisked away. There's a fairly foolproof system at work here, no doubt developed over 35 years of business. In a little while a food runner brought out our penne: smooth, dense tubes of al dente pasta smothered in a balanced sauce composed of prosciutto, sautéed onions, red wine, tomatoes, and fresh leaves of basil. It's a simple, hearty dish with just the right combination of chewy texture (the pasta, the prosciutto) played off against a bit of bite from the tomatoes and wine. It was perfect. You could live on it indefinitely. Split between two of us, it was more than enough for a primi piatti. The big balding guy at a corner table, his extended family arrayed around him like minor moons around a capacious planet, probably could have eaten the full serving, but not us.
Three tables over, the two dudes still hadn't decided who was paying for what. They'd lowered their voices a notch, but they were scrutinizing the bill. Again. Their wives were applying lipstick.
Now came the brasciola di vitello, a Sunday specialty beloved by generations of Italian-Americans. Everybody's grandma had her own recipe; this one probably developed over many generations of old ladies was made with veal pounded thin, rolled up with prosciutto, parmesan, and mortadella, the Bolognese sausage studded with cubes of pork fat and anise and pistachios. Frank Perrone adds his secret "rugu" sauce, and you have something very fine indeed, with great mouth feel and a satisfying heaviness that lets you know you've really eaten. My partner had a moist, thick pork chop with scarpariello sauce black olives, pepperoncini, mushrooms, onions, garlic, wine, vinegar and get this sweet, spicy Italian sausages. Would you like some pork with your pork? Yes indeed we would. The pepperoncini lent heat and sour to the pork juices and wine, and I have to say this might be my new favorite dish, possibly but not definitively edging out the chicken livers with hot peppers over at Ruggero's in Lauderdale. I'd be happy to judge a cook-off any time.
124 S. federal Highway
Hallandale Beach, FL 33009
Region: Hallandale Beach
As for the sides: I think I've had better sautéed escarole; the garlic in it was burnt. And the mushrooms were oversalted. But I'm not holding this against them.
We ordered panna cotta ($5.50) for dessert. Our waiter gently informed us they'd used the last of the fresh berries. Crème brûlée instead? We hesitated. My mate doesn't like crème brûlée. And I'm frankly sick of finding it on every menu from here to Poughkeepsie. But as I looked up at him, there was something like a twinkle in his eye maybe it was the reflection on his lenses? And the slightest nod, like the guy was tipping me off on a sure thing. So crème brûlée it was. And I'll tell you, friends, the big round dessert we were served, with its caramelized, subtly bitter crust and textured, vanilla-infused pudding, was something I will dream of with pleasure and longing for many nights. I'm certain I've never tasted better.
The beautiful piano man was singing, Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane... I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain. The table of four had finally settled the score on their bill; the two wives wrapped arms around each other's waists as they sauntered, whispering and giggling, toward the door. Brothers? Only family would act out publicly at such volume. I wondered what kinds of similar battles had been waged in the Perrones' kitchen over 30 years, between brothers, between fathers and sons, between wives and husbands. Whatever their differences might have been, this family stuck it out and kept the peace. It's our great good fortune that they did.