Most women like to window shop for shoes and jewelry. Me? I do most of my ogling in front of bakeries and deli cases. Without spending a dime, I can imagine the experience of dozens of dishes, strategize future pig-outs and make informed decisions about how best to tickle the old taster. Over many years of fogging the glass, I have compiled a list of hotspots for gourmet voyeurism, one of the latest being Villano's.
The boy and I were en route to an outdoor play and needed a picnic as quick as it was delicious. I mentioned Villano's, and he squinted and cocked his head as if to say: none of that foofy stuff, and we're square. I looked back innocently and promised to purchase at least one item with meat as the dominant feature. He raised a semi-approving eyebrow (after giving up on finding an online menu), and I was off to nab us some delicate "grub."
Although it was much cooler inside Villano's than under the adjacent bus stop (I swear I saw a tour group melt), I still found myself sweating as I scanned the chalkboards. Unfortunately, most of the sandwiches were made with hot ingredients so my picnic choices were limited, but I finally decided on a roast turkey focaccia. The spinach and red onions would pass the boy's inspection, but I was a little worried about the mango chutney.
"Is chutney foofy," I asked my server, but he was busy spreading the amber-colored goo on both sides of the filling. I can always tell him it's mustard, I thought. Then I ordered a grilled chicken salad made with fresh lettuce, chopped walnuts, green apples and large purple grapes (which make an appearance in many of Villano's signature dishes). On the side I went with a diced broccoli salad and a lemon bar for dessert. Lisa Villano herself bagged the last few items and generously offered her phone for a personal call from my mother (how does she find me?!).
Spreading out on the grass a few hours later, the boy and I unwrapped our goodies. We tried the sandwich first and agreed it was excellent. The focaccia was moist and flavorful, and though it looked like too much bread, the chutney soaked up enough fluffiness to make it in perfect proportion to the juicy turkey, crisp onions and hints of spinach.
"It doesn't look that spectacular, but it tastes great. And this yellow stuff really makes it. What is it?" the boy asked, pointing to the chutney.
"Mango chutney?" I said, wincing.
"Chutney? What the hell is chutney?" he asked.
"Like relish, only made with fruit," I said. This seemed to satisfy him, and we fought for the remaining tidbits. The salad was less impressive but still good, and though the broccoli mash had an awesome texture thanks to slivered almonds, scallions and grapes, it lacked in flavor. This left only the lemon bar, a dessert singularly despised by the boy. I had honestly forgotten, but he couldn't help but stick his bottom lip out in all its dejected glory. Wracked with guilt, I was forced to finish the whole bar myself. It was one of the best I've had in a long time--pleasingly tart and chewy with a crumbly, buttery crust that reminded me of my great-grandmother's. All in all, Villano's picnic was a satisfying affair that left me curious about the other dessert bars and the boy less fearful of trendy condiments (next up--tapenade!)
--Erin Ryan doesn't just cry in the presence of onions, she weeps.