“Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti.”
The ageless movie siren, perhaps the most voluptuous octogenarian in the world, is hardly a proponent of low carb diets, admitting to daily dosages of macaroni. She maintains her classic hourglass figure by limiting portions–never consuming too many calories in one meal–and by not overloading pasta with rich, thick cream or cheese sauces. Though La Dolce Sophia once told a Sunday morning CBS program that she cannot diet, she actually does adhere to a strict Mediterranean diet which advocates a lot of vegetables, olive oil, pasta and red wine.
That Sophia Loren maintains a figure women half her age envy is a credit to her discipline. For many of us, Italian food is an irresistible indulgence shrouded in one stereotype. “The trouble with eating Italian food,” according to British writer George Miller, “is that five or six days later you’ll be hungry again.” With Italian food–at least Americanized Italian food served across the fruited plain–portions are often enough to feed a village in a developing country. On every table at so many Italian restaurants, you’ll espy a plethora of pasta, tons of tomato sauce, mountains of meatballs, bakeries of bread. It brings to mind Alka Seltzer’s most famous commercial depicted a poor sap bemoaning the consumption of dozens of Mamma Mia’s spicy meatballs?
If Sophia Loren was to devour the prodigious portions served at Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria, her prototypal hourglass figure would be replaced by an adipose apple shape. To say the portions at Sal’s are generous is an understatement. To say they’re a caloric overachiever’s dream deemphasizes their richness and grandiosity. To say Sal’s food is delicious is to minimize just how much patrons missed it during the months in which in was closed on account of the Cabrona virus.
Okay, Sal’s technically didn’t open until 2021 when it was safe to do so, but if continuity in one location counts, it’s been serving the Duke City since 1984. That’s nearly four decades of feeding loyal guests. Before launching as Sal’s, the restaurant was named Mimmo’s for one of the two business partners who founded and operated the restaurant. When Mimmo retired in April, 2020, his partner Sal Cerami assumed sole ownership, hence the name “Sal’s.” In an interview with KRQE, Sal assured viewers that the food and family-friendly vibe will be the same, but wouldn’t commit to offering the popular buffet.
There are some changes, our favorite being the dog-friendly patio in which our debonair dachshund The Dude could join us. A remodeling of the dining room is probably more apparent to guests who aren’t as interested in the menuas we were. That menu is somewhat abbreviated, but still offers a plethora of pasta dishes sure to sate the most esurient eater. Just as Mimmo’s once did, Sal’s offers conventional New York style pizza as well as a Sicilian style pie. During lunch pasta dishes include a soup or salad as well as garlic bread.
8 October 2021: We practically recited a prayer of invocation upon seeing Mixed Cold Cuts on the menu (in the restaurant’s previous instantiation, this starter was called Affetatti Misti). Available in small (serves two) or large (serves four), these cold cuts include salami, prosciutto, ham, pepperoni, Provolone, Swiss, green and black olives and pickled artichokes. Call it a poor person’s charcuterie if you will, but this is one very satisfying starter especially since your table will also have a loaf of the restaurant’s crusty Italian bread on hand.
8 October 2021: Both my Kim and I opted for soup as soon as our server informed us the del giorno (Italian for du jour) soup was tomato bisque. By definition, a bisque is a French style of soup made from crustaceans, such as lobster, crab, shrimp, and crayfish. No matter how you classify this elixir, you’ll call it soul-warming and delicious. This bisque is smooth, creamy and nicely seasoned. It’s a perfect change of season soup…er, bisque.
A spate of eateries across Albuquerque have taken liberties with the term “carbonara,” resulting in such interpretations as spicy seafood carbonara at D.H. Lescombes Winery & Bistro, fideo carbonara at Matanza New Mexico Local Craft Beer Kitchen, rotisserie chicken carbonara at Seasons Rotisserie & Grill and chicken tortellini carbonara at Gigi’s Italian Bistro. There’s been too much gnashing of teeth as to whether any departure from traditional carbonara is an abomination or creativity.
08 October 2021:Traditionally carbonara is made by combining hot cooked pasta with raw eggs or egg yolks, grated Pecorino Romano, ground black pepper, and fried pancetta, guanciale, (or, sometimes in the U.S., bacon). Rather than debate the authenticity of Sal’s carbonara offering, I’ll assess what we experienced–a largely delicious offering of spaghetti in a rich, creamy sauce with pancetta. As with carbonara we’ve experienced in the United States, it was much too rich to finish in one sitting. That’s a good thing as it tastes even better the next day.
08 October 2021: Both Italy and the United States claim to be the originator of the recipe for penna alla vodka, a tomato sauce-based dish enhanced with cream and vodka. Essentially the sauce can be added to a variety of dishes including gnocchi, ravioli and spaghetti. Sal’s version, a rigatoni alla vodka has an element we hadn’t previously experienced. While alla vodka is generally made with hot oil, Sal’s version emphasizes the word “hot.” In fact, we wondered if we hadn’t been mistakenly served rigatoni Amatriciana instead. While the dish proved very satisfying to me, my Kim found it too piquant.
1 July 2022: To sauce or not to sauce. That is the question. My Kim is a sauce minimalist while her saucy husband would just as soon drench anything Italian with sauce, especially a sauce based on tomatoes (perhaps subconsciously it reminds me of the salsa which flows in my veins). When our meatball, sausage and garlic bread appetizer arrived (sauce on the side at my Kim’s request), she plucked the meatball and sausage off the plate before I had a chance to toss it into the sauce. As usual, I should have followed her lead. One of the cooks was rather heavy-handed with the salt (perhaps someone loosened the top of the salt shaker). My portion of the sausage and meatball (which I dumped directly into the sauce) were in dire need of desalinization. The overuse of salt is at the top of my list of culinary transgressions. Fortunately I’m a forgiving guy who’s convinced this was a one-time faux pas.
1 July 2022: Who knows how many times I’ve misled my friend Captain Tuttle, one of the best and funniest people I know, about some restaurant I really liked only for him to find that same restaurant rather mediocre. In my defense, he once told me his cousin Leandro’s rooster was a friendly and benign feathered fellow. The welts and scars on my legs and butt proved otherwise (and I really should have gotten the hint when he scurried away in fear the second we approached that cruel rooster). Anyway for a while now, he’s been telling me the pizza at Sal’s is his favorite Duke City pie. There’s no doubt it would have been in contention for our favorite, too, had it not been for the aforementioned overuse of salt. Even with the thickness of the thick Sicilian style crust, the extra salt had us pursing our lips. To make matters worse, the pepperoni and sausage seemed to accentuate that saltiness. Thank goodness for the green peppers, onions and mushrooms. For years we enjoyed the Sicilian pizza at Mimmo’s and are convinced the salt overdose was a one-time thing.
Visiting Sal’s is a lot like visiting an old friend (or Italian matriarch) who makes guests feel welcome with bountiful bowls of delicious food. Too many visits and I’ll lose my own svelte figure.
Sal’s Ristorante & Pizzeria
3301 Coors Road N.W., Suite 21
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 1 July 2022
1st VISIT: 8 October 2021
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: Spaghetti Carbonara, Rigatoni Alla Vodka, Cold Cuts, Sicilian Pizza