For the Love of the Red-Sauce Joint

Perhaps this post doesn’t make sense in light of the recent announcement of the closing of Donna’s Restaurant.
Bear with me, this post is not about Donna’s (well not really).
I believe the closing of Donna’s is an abnormality, but still an unfortunate event nonetheless.
I don’t believe it to be indicative of anything greater. We don’t know the full story, nor do I want anyone to speculate.
Restaurants open, restaurants close., for many, many complicated reasons.
I wish the folks at Clark House Hospitality much good fortune. I’m sure they will continue to succeed elsewhere.
Keep in mind, I’ve been poking away at this post for weeks, regardless of Donna’s status.
This post is about a bigger discussion.. At least I think it is..

So why do we love our Italian-red-sauce restaurants?
I’m certainly not the first to pose that question.

We don’t necessarily have an abundance of Red-Sauce-Joints, great or otherwise.
I think we have some mediocre places, a few bad places, and a few that are pretty decent.
But not necessarily an abundance of greatness.
But we do love them, nonetheless.

I imagine we’re comforted by the familiarity of Red-Sauce-Joints (RSJs).
For the most part, you understand the menu, and are fairly confident in your expectations.
In other words, there are few surprises with a RSJ.
Everything is fairly predictable; decor, menu, price-point, flavor.
Even for the unfortunate folks without Italian ancestry, the menu is typically filled with items you’ve eaten many times.
Often items you’ve created in your own kitchen.

You could fairly confidently go to a decent RSJ on a first date.
No need to research things like “Chicken Vindaloo”, or “japchae”, or “Bibimbap”; no need to lift your pinky when you gulp your wine.
It will almost always be a comfortable experience at a RSJ.
It may however, be rare that it’s a GREAT experience.

I understand the appeal of the comfortable, the aversion to risk.
Being frugal with my food dollars, I myself prefer to minimize surprise. I prefer to go where I’m fairly confident in the results.
I think that’s fine.
We can’t all afford (literally, or figuratively) to be adventurous diners.

All of this preamble gets me to Troy’s Red Front Italian Restaurant.

In my quest to eat my way through the pizza of Troy, I find myself at Red Front.
You’ve probably heard of their COB pizza. I’d eaten it years ago, but my memory fades easily (remember this one?).
It was time for a fresh look.
I made a few trips, ate a few things, took it all in.

I should have known I would someday be faced with this dilemma.
Needing to write about a place that I don’t really care for, a place that I don’t necessarily recommend,
a place where I probably won’t return.
But a place worth mentioning nonetheless.

I doubt I’ll ever go back to Red Front, but I think there are a number of people that do return, frequently.
The few times I visited, and whenever I drive by, the place seems to doing just fine.
I think Red Front fills a need. The need for the comfort of the RSJ.

They have a genuine “old-school” RSJ menu….. Parmigiana, Marsala, Picatta, Sorrentino
You know the menu.
And of course, they have pizza.
Red Front’s self-proclaimed expertise is their COB pizza (“Cheese-on-Bottom”).
….”the pizza South Troy has been craving for generations”….

Red Front’s COB

I like to think I know a bit about COB pizza.
I’ve had some really good COB pizza. Some of my favorite pies are COB.
I also have a fondness for a tomatoey pie.

But, I did NOT enjoy the Red Front COB – at all.
The biggest issue I have is with the tomato sauce..It’s WAY TOO SWEET.
This has been documented online before…
That SWEET sauce, coupled with the hidden sheets of mozz, make a very odd flavor-profile.
I couldn’t get past one or two slices.
Please don’t judge the potentially wonderful COB-style of pie by the Red Front example.

But, I went back another night.
This time I tried the round pie (NON-COB).
Aside from a botched order (write down my order at the table please), I again wasn’t impressed.
Red Front seems to be using the same dough for all of their pies, and like its square cousin, I believe the rounds are also cooked in a pan.
This dough actually has potential. It’s a soft dough, not too thick but certainly not crispy thin.
Cooking in the pan leaves the potential for some nice crispy fried goodness.
This dough could be part of a pretty good pie.
But not here, not now.

Red Front’s Round

So why do people keep going back to Red Front?
The interior of the restaurant is very run-down, almost feeling dirty.
I believe the food to be mediocre, at best.
But they fill their seats, every night for over 55 years.
Is it because it’s comfortable, because it’s familiar, because it’s easy?

Don’t you deserve more?
Why settle for mediocrity, simple because it’s easy, or familiar?
Why not find that comfort in a place that really makes you happy, really makes you smile?

Maybe this post is about Donna’s after all.
Maybe it was actually exactly what we wanted.
Now we’ll never really know.

Go find what makes you smile.

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