Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Little Taste of Italy (in a can)

I try to support the independent business owner. I frequent local Main Street businesses, whenever possible, rather than the big box stores or chain restaurants. I want to see the small businesses succeed and prosper! Kannapolis has an abundance of small, family-owned restaurants, and I prefer giving them my patronage. The restaurant industry as a whole has a notoriously low profit margin. It can be difficult to make money when the economy is good, let alone when it isn’t. If I find a place that I like, I will keep going back. I will also tell everyone about it, in an effort to keep it in business. If you know either LA or me, you know our local haunts and how much we love them.  In return, I expect the business to make an effort to keep me (or anyone else) coming back.

Palermo’s Italian Restaurant opened for business a few months back. The building had been empty since I moved to Kannapolis, but, in a previous life, it was most likely a Burger King. Where the children’s play area used to be there is now outdoor seating. The terra cotta tile floor and large windows all around especially lend to the fast food feel. The owners have made an effort to improve the décor, with a trellis and ivy around the cash register, traditional Italian-restaurant checked tablecloths, and some new light fixtures. LA feels that the décor is lacking, but I understand that Palermo’s was probably opened on a shoe string. At least they tried to improve the appearance!

LA and I decided to give Palermo’s a try shortly after they opened. Palermo’s has a daily lunch menu for $5.99, which includes an entrée and drink. They have a respectable selection, including chicken parmigiana, lasagna, chef’s salad, pizza, or a variety of sandwiches. We went on a Saturday, and the restaurant was hopping. Most of the seats were filled and everyone seemed happy. LA and I both opted for the chicken parmigiana, which came with spaghetti and a side of garlic bread. Our waitress was friendly, but not overbearing—the kind of service person that I prefer. She kept our glasses filled, which is always a welcome, if not rare, touch. The garlic bread was comprised of baguette slices that had been coated with garlic butter and then baked. They probably would’ve been very good had they not been overcooked, bordering on burnt. The chicken was the pre-breaded and frozen variety that is brought in by a national distributor. While I can’t report for certain that the sauce was from a can as well, I would be shocked if it had been homemade. The taste was fine, but it was quite watery and left a pool of thin liquid beneath our spaghetti. If it is homemade, they should either get a new cook or considering getting it from a can, along with the frozen chicken. Overall, we were satisfied, but not impressed.

We felt that Palermo’s needed a second chance, so we returned last week. We arrived at 1:30 on a Saturday afternoon. No one was there! The surrounding establishments had half-full or more parking lots, and Palermo’s had us. We were greeted at the door and immediately seated. Our waiter appeared and took our drink orders. LA chose not to eat anything, as it may have interfered with the giant bowl of mashed potatoes that he eats every day at 5pm. I, however, was not there for the atmosphere. From the $5.99 lunch menu, I ordered the NY Buffalo Chicken sub, described on the menu as “chicken tenders in a spicy Buffalo sauce, with lettuce, tomato, onion, and ranch sauce”, with a side of fries. Hold the onion and tomato, please. I wasn’t planning to kiss LA later, but we would be riding in the same car, breathing the same air. The buffalo sauce would be bad enough, without the raw onions to top it. The second thing that we noticed (the first being that the place was empty) was the music. It was loud. The volume would have been appropriate for a crowded room, but it was too loud for only two customers. The stereo system was also scratchy. Of great amusement to us was the musical variety. We had Shania Twain, the Isley Brothers, and Andrea Bocelli, to name a few. Not only was the music louder than necessary, but the conversation among the staff was as well. Our waiter was providing details of his previous night’s date to the other server, and we got to hear all about it. Maybe I’m just jealous that someone had a date. The food took longer than expected to arrive, but it was hot when I got it. That’s always a plus. The chicken wasn’t in the typical Buffalo sauce, and this one had a slight Italian-y flavor to it. I chalked this up to oregano in either the chicken breading or the sauce. While it was a very drippy sandwich, it was also pretty good. The roll had been crisped up in the oven, which is a nice touch. The fries were undercooked and undersalted. I can’t speak for anyone else, but my opinion holds that an unsalted French fry is one of life’s great disappointments. French fries are meant to be crispy and salty. Not limp and bland. Speaking of limp, LA wanted me to mention the pickle that came with the sandwich. The notes that I took on that subject are rather succint: limp pickle. For those who don’t know, I worked for three summers in a pickle factory. I know pickles. I hadn’t really planned on eating it; it was just an observation. Overall, we left this visit with the same opinion of the food as we had the previous time. It was satisfying, but not memorable. Considering the price, it’s a good value. It’s essentially the same price as a fast food combo, but you get a better selection. We finally left at 2:15, and no one else had ever come through the doors. I hate to sound the death knell for any restaurant, but it felt to both of us like it was coming sooner rather than later. Since it’s cheap and relatively decent, I would recommend going to Palermo’s while you still have the choice. Just don’t go with high expectations. Think of it more in terms of Italian fast food.

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