Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dining in Deming . . .

is an oxymoron.

Your choices are Mexican, fast food chains, Mexican, motel restaurants, Mexican, a Chinese buffet. . . . You get the picture. There are two other alternatives to Mexican and fast food and as a part of our walking tour, we lunched at one--Palma’s Italian Restaurant.

I know. Who’s going to eat Italian food in southwest New Mexico? Well, Palma’s gets great user reviews and is listed as the Number One restaurant in Deming on tripadvisor.com.

Palma's is located in the original Deming National Bank building that was constructed in 1893.

The windows looked particularly striking with their round arches with keystones.

The bank survived a fire in 1914 due to the action of bank personnel who placed all papers and money in the vault. The only losses were some furniture.

However, the bank did not survive the serious economic decline that hit the Deming area in 1923 and 1924. Deming's two banks, The Bank of Deming and the First National Bank were forced to close their doors.

We wondered if the Burglar Alarm shown here acted as an effective deterrent to anyone considering robbing the bank.

The building was occupied by another bank until sometime in the early 1970s when a minister and his family purchased the building and used it as their home.

Our server related the story of the tragic death of the minister and his family and noted that she believes that the ghost of the young daughter still makes an appearance. She has cleaned the windows in the morning and found a child's handprints on the window before the restaurant opens.

To the right as you enter is a large and somewhat yawning high ceiling dining area. Perhaps had there been noisy diners, the room wouldn’t have so resembled a cave. But we were led to one of the two cozier rooms to the left and were seated near the original vault door leading to the kitchen.

Along one wall was a built-in bookcase/display shelves which contained an assortment of Italian food products and some brightly colored Italian dinnerware.

(Note the bas-relief artwork which the minister had constructed over the bookcase.)

Had we been there for dinner, we could have chosen from a number of Italian selections. Pastas included spaghetti or penne with meatballs or Italian sausage, penne or spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce, gnocchi, lasagna, manicotti, and cheese ravioli. Non-pasta entrees included eggplant parm, veal parm, and shrimp scampi. And Palma’s is also known for their Black Angus steaks and for the prime rib which is only available on Saturday nights. So popular is the prime rib that the restaurant often runs out a few hours after opening for dinner, so some regulars will make reservations for both their table and their prime rib.

But we were there for lunch and our Italian choices were few. You could order four burger variations, a Philly Cheesesteak, a French dip, a meatball sandwich, or an Italian sausage sandwich. There were four salad choices and the Caesar could include an herb crusted salmon fillet, garlic grilled shrimp, or a grilled chicken breast.

The lunch specials were spaghetti with meatball or sausage, manicotti, penne marinara or alfredo, fettuccini alfredo, eggplant parm, lasagna, or Southwest chicken fettuccini. We both wanted pasta, so Chuck ordered the fettuccini alfredo and I ordered the penne with marinara sauce.

Both of us started with a cup of the Italian Potato Soup, a thick and hearty soup that contained tender slices of potato about an eighth-of-an-inch thick, escarole, and discs of a mildly spicy sausage that gave the soup a little spice kick. I have in the freezer some links of Sicilian Sausage from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage in Phoenix and plan to save a link for potato soup in the near future. With the soup came a basket of warm bread and a dish of olive oil with roasted garlic and herbs.

Chuck’s fettuccini was the better of the two pastas. The fettuccini was cooked absolutely al dente and the sauce was lightly cheesy and not too rich. Not the best version of fettuccini ever but still a commendable attempt.

While the penne in my dish was also cooked to the right degree of tooth resistance, to me the sauce was not marinara.
My idea of marinara is a light and brightly flavored sauce that often contains some recognizable chunks of tomato and that is cooked for only a short period of time--say twenty to thirty minutes. Palma’s sauce was more like an Italian-American red gravy and would have been at home on a rear burner in any South Philadelphia Italian home. It was probably a very good rendering of red gravy, but I am just not fond of that style of tomato sauce.

This was not bad Italian food, but having just eaten Andreoli Italian Grocer’s (Phoenix) marvelous Italian food, it was a letdown and only earns 3.0 Addies.

Let this be a lesson. Eat the regional specialty.

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