When in doubt, eat where the Italians eatErica Streisfeld
I actually visit Bologna fairly often, as my entire maternal family lives there. And what do you think is the best part about going there (besides seeing my family, of course)?
Located in the north, Bologna is thought to have some of the best food in all of Italy, and it's aptly nicknamed "la grassa," meaning "fat."
To set the record straight, no, it's not pronounced "baloney," nor do they eat the Oscar Mayer variety. But they do produce a much-adored cured meat called mortadella, which vaguely resembles balogna.
Then there's the city's namesake Bolognese sauce, or "ragù" as the natives call it, not to be confused with the American jarred sauce. Ragù is more a meat sauce than a tomato sauce, so it's made with surprisingly little tomato, and it doesn't contain any garlic or herbs. Go figure. You can try tagliatelle alla Bolognese at Trattoria Fratelli in Lebanon.
Being 50 percent Bolognese, coupled with the fact that most "Italian" food in America is actually more representative of the drastically different southern Italian cooking, makes me choose my local Italian restaurants carefully. And I tend to find the best selection off the beaten path.
Other than my mom's kitchen, my go-to place for Italian is Gabriella Italian Ristorante in Harrisburg. The food is always fresh and simple, with no need to be disguised by over-the-top sauces that don't make any sense. Gabriella's calamari is lightly fried and perfectly tender, and I typically flip-flop between ordering the chicken pizzaiola or chicken marsala. For another great marsala, head to Tatiana's Restaurant in Palmyra. Meanwhile, Sammy's Authentic Italian Restaurant in Harrisburg is my pick for chicken or veal saltimbocca, a classic dish topped with prosciutto and sage.
On the pasta side, Sammy's also has a delectable vodka sauce with bowtie. Or for a different kind of pasta, order the rich, homemade gnocchi at the Moonlight Cafe in Dover.
Now let's talk meatballs.
Spaghetti and meatballs is not something I grew up on, and it's actually more an Italian-American dish than anything else. Why? Italians do eat both spaghetti and meatballs — but not together. So "The Meatball" at Carley's Ristorante & Piano Bar is right up my alley. This 12-ounce ball of deliciousness comes draped in provolone cheese and is accompanied by marinara, basil pesto and tomato coulis for dipping. You'll definitely need to share!
Still mourning the loss of Nonna's Delisioso, I am only comforted by the fact I can get a tasty mortadella or soppressata panino at Alvaro's Bread and Pastry Shoppe in Harrisburg. Don't leave without sampling the homemade gelato or the various cookies and pastries. But for the ultimate in Italian pastries, visit La Dolce Vita Courthouse Bakery in Lancaster for fruit tarts, cream puffs, cannoli, sfogliatelle — you name it.
What's your favorite local Italian eatery?
Erica Streisfeld is the editor for custom publishing at Journal Publications Inc., parent company of the Central Penn Business Journal. She moonlights as a foodie and wino, and many people also know her as founder and organizer of the Harrisburg Cupcake Cup, a community cupcake competition that doubles as a fundraiser for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Follow her at @HbgFoodandWine.