I fell off the bike. The guys at the dealership were running toward me, yelling, “Are you OK, miss?” “Are you hurt?” I hadn’t even started the thing; I was just sitting on it, lost my balance, and fell over with the bike on top of me. A slight bruise on my leg and a marvelously bruised ego later, I left with the idea that the city bus might be the way to go after all.
Checking out the big red Vespa on the wall mural at Fratelli Italian Deli brought it all back. It was red—they’re always red in our fantasies--but the steaming plate of baked rigatoni in front of me brought me back to something I was actually good at: eating. These finger-sized tubes of pasta were drenched with a very well-spiced, candy-apple-red marinara sauce, topped with big, garlic-scented meatballs and tucked under a crust of melted mozzarella.
The menu is nice and inexpensive with baked pasta platters around $6 and $7, cold-cut and oven-baked subs with chips for $6, and pizzas and calzones from $6 to $10 for single toppings. A handful of salads include the house, veggie antipasto or a Fratelli antipasto, with the latter loaded up with veggies, imported meats and mozzarella.
The small Fratelli antipasto salad ($5.99) was big enough for me and my neighbor, with some left for a midnight snack. Its coating of homemade Italian dressing seemed heavy on the olive oil. Upon requesting some on the side, I discovered that the proportions were fine, but in of need emulsification (also known as shaking the heck out of the dressing). But, oh, the meats! There was so much delicious meat and shredded mozzarella on this salad that it was almost a meal unto itself. I recognized shredded, smoked ham, tangy salami and even some imported mortadella (a smooth, pink bologna-type sausage with pearls of rich animal fat). I always say if the skin’s gone, it’s time to eat.
My entrée came in excellent time, and the portions were legit. Maybe too legit, because it was literally spilling off the plate. I ate around the edges first, but the poor table suffered terribly. In true Italian fashion, I could have smothered anything with sautéed bell peppers and onions for an extra $.60, or loaded up on freshly made cannoli for $2.50 a pop. And, for the few diners still clinging to a low-carb lifestyle, they offer a bread-free Italian sausage or meatball dinner for $5.95, as well as “no crust” calzones. Huh? I tied down Sam, renaissance employee and sister-in-law to the owners, who explained the dynamics of the calzone, sans crust. It’s not too complicated. They just take all of the calzone innards and bake them in a dish.
Sam seemed extremely proud of the restaurant, mentioning its five-year tenure with owners Phillip and Emma Panuzzo. She touted the calzones and the meatballs as being the most popular items on the menu, and together we mourned the loss of the beer and wine they used to serve, cut short by lack of interest. (Booze wasn’t selling in Albuquerque? There’s one for the papers.) Sam then turned the tables and asked me a question or two. For instance, what I would change about the restaurant?
“Bigger plates, man,” I told her, remembering the table. I had to ask about the big, framed Vespa poster next to the kitchen, and she told me her brother (owner Phillip) was a huge Vespa fan. “I used to be,” I told her, with that faraway look in my eyes. Sam had to bolt to another table, but I lingered a bit longer, thinking of the romantic European Vespa vacation that never was.