Italian food has flavors to savor at Calvanico’s in Highland

Written by | Food

One of the things that always made me look wistfully back to my east coast roots was the absence of family run Italian restaurants where everyone knows your name. When I lived there, you could pop in and find yourself immersed in friendly, if sometimes raucous, conversations with lots of vino and comfort foods which remind you of your childhood, be they pizza by the slice, sausage and peppers sandwiches or cannolis.

Well, recently I happened to stumble upon Calvanico’s Italian Eatery in Highland and immediately knew my culinary ship had come in.

You’re greeted with a smile by one of owner Paula’s four daughters and a hearty “Buon Giorno” from the kitchen by Paula. Wine is served in water glasses and you can bring your own wine in without paying a corkage fee.

There’s an Italian saying on one wall which translates as “Enter as friends, leave as family.” Another wall is devoted to photos of the Calvanico extended family going back multiple generations. Music plays in the background, ranging from Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore” and Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” to the theme from the “Godfather” movies.

For me, these items bring back memories of the Palmero Street markets in Sicily or the Feast of San Gennaro in New York’s Little Italy.

The calamari fritti consist of squid bodies and tentacles dredged lightly in seasoned flour and quick-fried in very hot oil. The tentacles were crisp and the bodies were very tender.

Once the Italian culinary train begins, it’s hard for me to put the brakes on my ordering, so bear with me as we continue to the next food “station.”

The potato croquettes are a true comfort food — four torpedo-shaped pieces, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. You must throw some garlic bread into the mix — a whole loaf of Italian bread from Queens Baking Company (as in Queens, New York) in Upland, lathered in-house with butter and a goodly amount of dried oregano.

During a recent visit, we began with two classic Sicilian street foods — panelle and arancini.

Panelle are made from ground garbanzo bean flour (chick peas in New Yorkese) which are deep-fried and served stacked on a roll with a side of rich multi-purpose marinara sauce.

Arancini (orange-shaped rice balls) are deep-fried and stuffed with meat and ricotta cheese and accompanied by green peas. Dip it in the marinara and have at it. Forget the knife and fork!

For me, these items bring back memories of the Palmero Street markets in Sicily or the Feast of San Gennaro in New York’s Little Italy.

The calamari fritti consist of squid bodies and tentacles dredged lightly in seasoned flour and quick-fried in very hot oil. The tentacles were crisp and the bodies were very tender.

Once the Italian culinary train begins, it’s hard for me to put the brakes on my ordering, so bear with me as we continue to the next food “station.”

The potato croquettes are a true comfort food — four torpedo-shaped pieces, crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside. You must throw some garlic bread into the mix — a whole loaf of Italian bread from Queens Baking Company (as in Queens, New York) in Upland, lathered in-house with butter and a goodly amount of dried oregano.

Sausage, peppers and onions has always been a favorite of mine, and we ordered the platter which is accompanied by a choice of pasta-spaghetti or penne with the aforementioned marinara, a bite of which took me back to my college days at Greasy Tony’s in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Lest you think that there’s only marinara sauce, Paula creates individual specials on Saturdays, so you can sample assorted sauces in such dishes as spicy fra diavolo, seafood cioppino, pesto, etc., depending on what strikes her culinary fancy.

We had to try the Italian meatballs, a combination of sausage and beef — firm and bursting with the flavors of basil, bread crumbs and grated pecorino Romano with a firm texture that allows you to enjoy the lingering flavor as you slowly chew it into oblivion.

They also do a vegetarian pasta served with a side of roasted vegetables that includes eggplant, marinated red peppers and carrots. These vegetables are so delicious that I’d like to see them added as a permanent fixture to the menu.

I could go on and on, but do take note of the hero sandwiches, especially the eggplant parmigiana, a classic Italian comfort food; the lasagna, and the Italian tuna salad with canellini beans before leaving room for a true New York-style cannoli.

Last modified: February 8, 2019