Saturday, April 27, 2013

Are Open Kitchens…

really an homage to the diners of old? Just wondering.

After touring the ELISSA we headed over to the Pier 21 Theater to view the short film—The Great Storm—detailing the effects and aftermath of the 1900 hurricane that devastated this beautiful island. After all of this activity, we were more than ready for lunch, and I had whittled down the list of nearby possibilities to Nonno Tony’s World Kitchen—one of many local restaurants owed by the Galveston Restaurant Group.

The restaurant’s website describes it as “offering Italian, Asian fusion, Creole, and traditional American fare. The open-style kitchen features a steam kettle bar and brick ovens…

"’Nonno,’ Italian for ‘Grandfather,’ is attributed to Galveston Restaurant Group's patriarch, Tony Smecca (father of owners Joey and Johnny Smecca). ‘Paulie's Bar,’ another family namesake, is named in honor of Danny Hart's father, the third partner of Galveston Restaurant Group” (

Johnny Smecca is quoted at “’Our families play a significant role in our business, providing us with more than forty years of experience in cooking and serving our guests. Nonno Tony’s will reflect that commitment to family and tradition, with a twist of new and exciting cuisine.’”

Both the exterior and interior are ultra sleek and modern. There is seating on the front porch and during our visit we could see a couple seated in a wicker loveseat sharing a bottle of wine and watching the activity on the harbor and pier. Inside, and set off to one corner, is Paulie’s Bar. From our seats we could watch the chefs at work in the open kitchen.

And this brings me back to my initial question. Are we seeing a return to an earlier time, but dressed in modern garb? The predominant use of stainless steel along the back of the kitchen reminded me of the old fashioned diners in which customers would take a seat at the lunch counter and watch the short-order cook prepare their meals. Stainless steel—used for ease of cleaning---ruled in those East Coast classic diners.

(And speaking of returning to an earlier time. As I write this, I am watching Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus on the SYFY Channel and the Mega Shark has just taken a huge bite from the Golden Gate Bridge. Wasn’t this story line used before? Like in It Came From Beneath the Sea where a giant octopus attacks the Golden Gate Bridge? And is the presence of Japanese scientists in the current film to remind us of Godzilla or Rodan (a giant flying winged reptile) or Mothra (a giant insect) or Gamara (a giant turtle)? Just wondering.)

But back to the subject at hand. In the midst of all this modernity—the stainless, the exposed ductwork,

the polished wood tables—

the giant and somewhat tacky mural adorning the back wall of the side dining room seemed out of place.

While the words “World Kitchen” appear in the restaurant’s name and the website promises “Italian, Asian fusion, Creole, and traditional American fare,” the lunch menu is predominantly Italian or Italian-inspired.

And so I decided to order the Cioppino—an Italian Fisherman’s Stew with its origins in San Francisco; it is, to me at least, a close relative of the Provençal Bouillabaisse. At first I thought that the portion was
small relative to its price, but as I ate my way through the shrimp, fish, mussels, clams, calamari, and crab it soon became apparent the size was deceiving. The tomato base contained chopped tomato, green bell pepper, and onion and was seasoned with garlic and oregano. My only complaint was that the unidentified fish was “fishier” than I like but then that is just a matter of personal taste. Other diners may not have found it too strong at all.

And with the stew came some very good crusty and chewy bread that was perfect for wiping the bowl clean.

Chuck ordered the Seafood Fritto Misto—a literal mountain of fried fish (not as strong as that in my cioppino), shrimp, and calamari that came served on a bed of steak fries and accompanied by a small dish
of spicy fra diavolo sauce. The portion was so large that, when preceded by a shared appetizer, it would have been an ideal entrée for two.

I must admit that with two giant cruise ships within sight I was surprised that the restaurant was almost empty on a beautiful weekend afternoon. But that was the other travelers’ loss and we were more than pleased with our 4.0 Addie lunch.

Postscript: Is this my lucky day or what? What do I find while channel surfing but the 1955 science fiction film Tarantula starring John Agar (local small town doctor), Leo G. Carroll (mad, but well-intentioned, scientist), and Mara Corday (his assistant). And Ms. Corday can be seen walking through the desert in what any well-dressed woman scientist would wear—high heels, white gloves, and a small perky hat, while carrying a clutch purse.

And would you do what our doctor did the second time he was shown a pile of bones next to pools of a white chalky liquid? Would you stick your finger in it and taste?

It is my lucky day! It seems like it is “tacky” movie day on TCM with The Incredible Shrinking Man followed by Five Million Miles to Earth followed by The Monster that Challenged the World. (“An earthquake in the Salton Sea unleashes a horde of prehistoric mollusk monsters. Discovering the creatures, a Naval officer and several scientists attempt to stop the monsters, but they escape into the canal system of the California's Imperial Valley and terrorize the populace. Crawling up from the depths... to terrify and torture!” []. This stars a very young Hans Conried as a scientist.)

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

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