An Indy Italian tragedy
- Rex Gai
Once upon a thyme, there was a modest, but outstandingly glorious little storefront of an Italian at rear of the Nora Shopping Center (back near where the original Northside Yen Ching got its start). It's name? Il Gargano It was helmed by Mark Turner (American husband, front of the house) & Antonietta Bonfitto (Neapolitan wife, maestra della cucina).
Before I move into my rant, a bit of a personal preamble: I must confess, for a Midwestern middle class dumpy white boy, I never took to Italian food all that much. Oh, I was wowed by garlic bread at a young age and enjoyed it when my folks trundled us off into the back of the ole Vista Cruiser to the Italian Gardens & the Italian Village on the Eastside. But that food didn't electrify as, say, my first childhood trip to the Lotus Garden in Towne Plaza did, when I discovered real Cantonese. And even further, later on, with the mouth-watering, then, exotica from the likes of the twin Washington Street debuts of the Yen Ching enterprise and Jarunee (I forget her late hubby's last name) Balisari's introduction of Thai food by way of Bangkok before its knight-like chess move up into my neck of the woods in Fishers. But, we ARE talking the stuff of cavern-aged parmesan wheels and centuries-old balsamics and cold-pressed olives. At least I am. ;-)
So, I spent 5 years in Los Angeles with a wife who has traveled to Florence, Venice, Rome and well pretty much all over Italy and eaten tons of glorious Italian food in Gotham and San Francisco, where she once lived. She was bound and determined to show me that my eschewing of Italian had no basis in sanity. But most of the really great Italian places in L.A. (Valentino, Locanda Veneta, Rex II Ristorante) were all out of our budget except for one called Alejo's which got me hooked on fire-roasted garlic-imbued olive oil-drenched Italian bread). When we DID scrape enough coin to indulge it'd be at places like Chinois, Patina & Matsuhisa, so Italian still got the short end of the shrift.
Flash forward to present-day Naptown, a town where some poor few seem to think when people talk about ethnic food, it means stuff like Italian. Technically I suppose it does, but Italian, Cantonese Chinese, & Sonoran Mexican have become so engrained into the American palate that they really are tantamount to domestic-ethnic hybrids, not REAL ethnic food. There are some regional American cuisines that fit more into the ethnic milieu such as Southwestern, Creole, soul food, but I am getting off charter.
I've tried a few losers (some with a huge following), like Arturo's, Enrico's, Mangia!, Romano's Macaroni Grill, the late L'Opera, Bella Vita and Milano Inn, so-so places like Sangiovese, Buca di Beppo and Bravo! (I won't EVEN insult these guys by including The Old Spaghetti Fuctory or Olive Garden in the mix). I've not tried Iaria's, Ambrosia, Amici's, Mama Carolla's, Carrabba's, The Capri, Salvatore's, Salute, Michaelangelo's, Vito's Bertolini's, Pisano's, Marco's and Mezzaluna, Maggianos Little Italy, Matteo's, La Trattoria, Napoli Villa, Terranova and Belleria. I have been to Agio and Dunaway's but while I think both are decent establishments, neither are the true Italians that folks often claim they are. No, in my mind the real standouts are: Tavola di Tosa, Amalfi, the late Bacco, & Il Gargano. And another lightweight that's real fine is Sweet Tomato in Carmel.
But, back to Il, Nora and Target expansion forced Il to get out of Dodge. So they pulled up roots and tooled down 86th a few blocks to the North Willow Mall across from Saint Vee's. But here's the deal, I assume they have the same fab rustic Tuscan & Neapolitan grub as dished at the old joint, because on the door they have THE singular most obnoxious dress code to which I have ever been witness! Sez, and I quote: "No Jeans... No Ball Caps... No Tennis Shoes... No Shorts" On TOP of that they have the unmitigated temerity to put this malignant pretense: "Please Dress to Impress". Seems they've become a dance spot on weekends and a fascist gulag the rest of the time. ;-} One explanation COULD be the divorce of the genteel Mr. Turner from the tempestuous, obdurate Ms. Bonfitto might have had something to do with this disconnect with reality. Knowing Mark, I just can't believe he'd cotton to such a ridiculous, snotty rule. He's folks. Personally I hope Bravo! in that area stomps their independent arse!. The nerve! All but THE most tony places in the Big Windy or in L.A. would allow for basic casual dress, as long as it wasn't obscene. I've even seen that limit pressed pretty far. I could see asking no tank tops or cutoffs during, say, dinner hour. But a carte blanche ruling and against such a broad range of potentially tasteful casual wear? No way!! I'd LOVE to see a rock star or some other celeb be turned away at that door and watch the negative press unfold. Because you KNOW the stars usually don't travel in tails.
Sigh, I'll miss that amazing Pasta Fagiole, Chicken Parmigiana, their Ricotta & Spinach Ravioli in Vodka Lobster Cream Sauce and the Veal & Artichokes in Brandy Cream Sauce. They also have THE best peasant bread in all of Indy. My only quibbles EVER on the menu were a bland and strange lasagna and a non-standard tiramisù. Sigh.....
Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
See ya at the trough!
Rex....or should I call you Fud?
Il Gargano was always on my "special occasion" list of places to eat, but I haven't been since the move. I know they like to set themselves apart from the teeming masses of chain restaurants, but "dress to impress"? Impress...the waiters? The people shopping at the drugstore down the way? I understand setting a standard, but the way they are stating it seems pretty snotty. Oh well.
FYI - I'll be eating at Napoli Villa this weekend at a rehearsal dinner -- will report back.