"What do you mean, New York?” my daughter said as she slumped into a pathetic little heap on top of her duffel bag and other assorted travel items. “I thought we were going to a birthday party!”
I explained that we were celebrating my grandmother’s birthday at Little Venice, a restaurant with which my daughter is well acquainted from my childhood lore and a single visit of her own over five years ago. My daughter listened in disbelief. “So we’re driving over twenty one hours this weekend--for lunch?” she asked, weakly.
In a nutshell, yes. Yes, we spent nearly half of a 48-hour period in the car with the sole purpose of gathering around a table with thirteen family members—most of whom had traveled over 2 and a half hours themselves—to enjoy some traditional Italian fare.
But oh, it was worth it! I’ve sucked down slices of piping-hot pizza in Rome, eaten pasta in Padova, and indulged in gelato and tiramisu in tiny out-of-the-way Italian eateries, but I’ve never tasted sauce equal to what they’ve kept simmering in a little kitchen in New York’s southern tier for my entire lifetime. The unmistakable aroma! The tangy tomatoes! According to restaurant literature (OK, so what if it’s just the place mats?) only 6 people have ever known the recipe and just 3 remain today. Three! In light of Coke’s current Two Guys commercial in which their secret formula is shared by a pair of guys in lab coats who fall ominously prone, I’m frankly concerned, despite the fact that sauce today tastes the same as it did when I was ten.
The faithful and consistent reproduction of this Very Special Sauce affords me the opportunity to travel, in a single bite, to the days when my grandfather would summon our family over the Ham radio and tell us to get dressed for dinner. We’d pile into his Lincoln and a half hour later the table would be laden with bread and pasta, a meal that was never complete until it was topped off with a crème de menthe parfait.
But about that pasta? Let’s talk manicotti. Outside of Little Venice’s thin, homemade crepes overstuffed with light, fluffy ricotta smothered in said sauce, that baked pasta dish simply does not exist. There is no equivalent, no close approximation. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that you’ve likely never had manicotti, and if that is, indeed, the sad state in which you find yourself, please run, don’t walk to the phone. Make some reservations. Plan a culinary weekend road trip of your own.
As I explained to my daughter—citing a group of people I remember from my days at Philadelphia’s Eastern University who used to drive to Chicago for pizza as evidence—it’s not without precedent to drive all weekend for a single meal, anyway.
Maybe Italian isn’t your thing, but I hope that there’s a meal out there somewhere that you’d drive all weekend for. Better yet, I hope that memories of enjoying that meal in the company of family and friends make the flavors all the sweeter and that your experience is shared with people with whom you will savor new memories for at least as long as you crave the flavors.
If you’re lucky enough to have a 700 mile meal, I hope you’ll share it in a comment—even if you haven’t actually logged the miles to order it. I’d love to hear what you’d be willing to drive for if given the opportunity.