Keeping It Veal

The definition of comfort food depends on who you ask. Jones-y staples of regional Americana like mashed potatoes, meatloaf, mac 'n' cheese, and barbeque might spring to mind, but for us it's all about the veal parm. Mom and dad got us hooked from infancy at Nostalgia Restaurant in the Palumbo's, which burned down in 1994. Today, we turn to Ralph's or Marra's, both of which execute a crispy, cheesy, tomatoey parm big enough to feed a third-world country. Ralph's can get a little tight and touristy, and we swear to God if we hear another out-of-towner call gnocchi "ga-no-chee" we're gonna effing scream. Marra's has been a Passyunk staple since 1927. Judging from the vinyl booths, dark wood paneling, and bald spots in the black-and-white tiles spelling "Marra's" outside, it seems little has changed since then. And that's what so great about this spot. Consistency. The Chianti is chilled and $9 for a half-carafe. The cocktail list includes Tom Collins and Rob Roys, and they're not on there to be retro-chic; if you asked the bartender for a mojito, you would most definitely be laughed at. The pizza is amazing, wood-fired and crisp, with a crust that gives you flour fingerprints. In red or white, the mussels are plump and sweet, a basket of seeded bread the perfect vehicle for sauce-sopping. And the veal parm... To start, it's bigger than the plate. Its corners, so deep-fried crisp they curl up, hang over the dish like a grown man sitting in a high-chair. The gravy, spooned on thick so that it also falls off the plate, is nice and sweet, with a little pulp and just a flicker of acid. The naked mozzarella is oven-browned and chewy on the edges, while the barely melted cheese under the sheet of sauce stays warm and stringy. And the best part: it's $12. Pair it up with come smoky broccoli rabe and that's what we call comfort.
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