Mozzarella sticks have been a staple at chain restaurants specializing in pub grub for years. At first everyone had to try them. They were fried cheese after all. With some marinara sauce for dipping they were the ultimate appetizer to share with family and friends. Certainly there were very few people, if any, who could disagree with the ordering of such a treat.
As chains have gone more upscale and Italian restaurants have become increasingly more popular the mozzarella sticks have changed accordingly. Instead of sticks you may get slabs in some places. In others you can get nuggets. When I was only 17 or so I remember getting mozzarella pan fried in an Italian restaurant in Boston, long before it was ever popular in chains. It was fresh and dipped in egg then lightly crumbed and seared with home made marinara. It was fantastic. I spent many years ordering mozzarella sticks at any restaurant offering them in hopes that someday I would get a similar item instead of something thawed and warmed.
My time has finally come. I couldn’t believe my luck last year when I ordered mozzarella at a local seafood restaurant and received a plate of freshly sliced and seared mozzarella with a sweet tomato sauce. I was thrilled. My ten year old not so much, he was expecting those pre-frozen treats warmed or deep-fried until stringy. This sliced stuff that was soft and non rubber-like was not on his “to eat” list.
Living in Rhode Island we have some of the most fantastic Italian restaurants available. It amazed me that this seemingly Italian dish was so hard to find done well. That is until Carrie’s, a restaurant known best for it’s seafood. Carrie’s Seafood Bar & Grill, 1035 Douglas Avenue, Providence RI 02904, phone: (401) 831-0066. Not only does Carrie’s have this fantastic tasty treat they have amazing seafood. White chowder and clam cakes are a family favorite. Fish and chips are superb as are the fried clams and the baked stuffed lobster though it will set you back quite a bit more than the other items. The steamed mussels are none too shabby either and they come in red or white sauce. (http://www.menupix.com/providence/restaurants.php?id=670265)
More recently I was disheartened when the Eastside Mario’s in the area closed their doors. For affordable pasta dishes and an atmosphere that was kid friendly it couldn’t be beat. Some of the locations are still empty, one has been several other restaurants none with any longevity and the third, in Seekonk Massachusetts has become a Vinny T’s of Boston (353 Highland Avenue, Seekonk, MA 02771 Phone: 508.336.8488 Fax: 508.336.4715). Lo and behold they have pasta and lots of it but at a slightly higher price and with a more adult atmosphere. Luckily the kids are getting older because they happen to have the mozzarella I crave. Again just ordering it because it’s what we do, I was thrilled to find six puffs of cheesy goodness resting on top of a chunky and zesty tomato sauce when the plate arrived. Guess I should have read the menu. The tomato and mozzarella salad left a little to be desired. The Calamari Fra Diavolo was not as good. The squid was overdone and chewy and instead of lots of rings there were lots of tentacles, which I personally don’t enjoy. The pasta was al dente and the sauce was excellent. The Veal Marsala was also very good as were the roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables that came with it. (http://www.vinnytsofboston.com/)
Last night we found yet another restaurant with fried mozzarella, not sticks. Carrabba’s Italian Grill (1350 Bald Hill Road, Warwick, RI 02886 (401) 827-8880) offered fresh mozzarella fried with marinara. These however were not as good; they were slabs of a firmer more dry cheese with a coating of Italian breadcrumbs. The marinara was sweet and spicy and delicious so the less than spectacular quality of the cheese was palatable. Cozze In Bianco, AKA mussels steamed in wine, are absolutely fantastic. Best I have ever had. Fresh baked bread with herbs and olive oil blasted my diet right out of the water as I relished every bite of four slices. To my chagrin the Rustica Pizza was not nearly as good. The crust was a bit dry, and the toppings were just average. The pasta dishes served to the rest of the family were all met with high acclaim. (http://www.carrabbas.com)
Any of the three restaurants listed here will give you a fantastic meal for your money. The choice you need to make is between a menu of fantastic Italian or fantastic fish. Tough one.