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Jan 10, 2013 07:43 PM

Clarification on 'red gravy' [moved from Philadelphia board]

I had never heard the term "red gravy" before moving to PA and have a few questions. Can anyone clarify?

Does "red gravy" refer to any Italian tomato-based sauce or to a specific one? If the latter, what makes a sauce red gravy (as opposed to, say, marinara)?

For restaurants described as "red gravy restaurants", I assume it doesn't just mean that they serve red gravy, but that they serve a particular type of Italian food and/or have specific dishes on their menu?

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  1. Typically, if the sauce is made by simmering meat (meatballs, sausage, beef, pork, etc.) in it, then it is called "gravy". A quick, tomato only sauce would be "marinara".

    And yes, a "red gravy" restaurant (like Villa di Roma) serves a particular type of food (such as chicken parm, lasagna, manicotti, etc.). But I'm afraid that the term "red gravy" has earned an undeserved derogatory status since the advent of more upscale, regional Italian restaurants.

    1. Not a gravy at all. No flour, no roux. Its what a New Yorker might call Sunday sauce. A marinara in which meatballs, sausage,pork are added and simmered for hours. Deep flavors.

      7 Replies
      1. re: sal_acid

        It's a matter of semantics. While it is not a gravy by strict culinary terms, the fact remains that a tomato sauce simmered with meat in it is called red or Sunday "gravy". That's just what we call it.

        1. re: Philly Ray

          I agree it's the wet stuff that goes with meat, and it's red. :)

        2. re: sal_acid

          yeah, this is a losing battle... it's not what i think of as gravy, and i'm philly born and bred. but a lot of people here call it gravy, esp. in south philly. words evolve.

          1. re: Bob Loblaw

            I think the gravy term really developed to convey the fact that it has meat in it... as opposed to sauce or marinara which is meatless. The context makes sense but like Bob L. its not what I am used to calling things.

            1. re: cwdonald

              I didn't grow up calling it gravy and always feel a little phony if I say it. I usually call it "red sauce" as opposed to marinara and that seems to be understood fine.

              1. re: barryg

                oh, i'm never going to *say* it. i just won't correct people when they do. but i don't say 'wiz wit' or whatever it is, either.

              2. re: cwdonald

                The Sout' Philly girls I work with always make a pot of gravy on the weekend, usually Sunday. "Gravy", however, is one of those terms that you should use only if you are from South Philly, have lived in South Philly for years, or have married into a South Philly family. You need to earn the right to use it, otherwise you run the risk as being seen as a poser.

          2. Interesting local and regional definitions. Is gravy a Philly term? How about Jersey and NY? I would never say gravy; for me it is either tomato sauce (which may and probably does have meat of some kind used to make it or marinara which has no meat and which I find to have a more texture than a tomato sauce. These are only conclusions I have come to over the years and may be "officially incorrect".

            9 Replies
            1. re: Bacchus101

              A quick search found these two blog posts on the topic which might shed some light (or stir further debate)...



              1. re: Philly Ray

                PhillyRay thanks for posting this... I remember hearing that the ambiguity of the translation of sugo to either sauce or gravy was part of the origin for the differences here in the US.

                Growing up in a town outside of New York that was half italian immigrant (many from Zungoli, a town in southern Italy about 115km east of Naples), I never heard anyone use the term gravy...

                1. re: Bacchus101

                  It is a Philly term as far as I know. NYC/Brooklyn friends laugh at it. One said it was stunad LOL.

                  1. re: sal_acid

                    It might not have had the staying power but Italian-Americans in NY and especially North Jersey do/did use the term.

                    1. re: sal_acid

                      Actually, it is spelled "stunod". But what do NYC/Brooklyn people know??

                      1. re: Philly Ray

                        Not sure about that. I don't think that Italian/American Italian is a written language. Like Yiddish, when written it is done phonetically and there are legitimate variations. Gavone or gafone...either way you know what I mean. LOL

                        1. re: sal_acid

                          Yiddish is a written language... but with Hebrew characters.

                          1. re: barryg

                            OK OK, Yiddish when written in English is phonetically spelled.

                  2. I really don't care what it's called, but I am inspired to make it today!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: wyogal

                      No, no, no...Only fish on Fridays! ;)

                      1. re: Philly Ray

                        hahahahahahaha! Good thing I'm not from Philly! I just couldn't resist, y'all started something here!

                    2. In the Sopranos television series there is an episode where the New Jersey Italian "crew" of Tony Soprano goes to Italy. One of the gangsters is served a pasta dish and asks an Italian waiter there, "Where's the gravy?" Now I understand!