The Old Spaghetti Factory: a lesson in eating I-talian.
When I was seven, Shirley Temple dazzled me. I had learned of the magical pink bubbly by way of similarly named child actor, one to which the adults would constantly compare me, because of my once-blonde curls.
I got hooked on the juice at The Old Spaghetti Factory, and had always assumed it was its own profound thing, a cocktail made custom for me. I actually believed for several years that the Old Spaghetti Factory was the only place in the world you could get a Shirley Temple. And also, spaghetti. That drink and that place were both spectacularly formative, two things I would first fall in love with and then discard once I knew better.
Spaghetti Factory was the spot where the fam would fancy up an occasion, and it was also my only experience with Italian food until my early twenties. Italian should be in quotes here, a very loose interpretation of the idea. This was a restaurant with walls draped in green velvet, too dim lighting masking your supper while you dined in a trolley car. Like a scene stolen from Little Women but with culinary flair; I mean, to eat something as truly authentic as noodles with red sauce and mizithra cheese was to be in Rome itself.
Oh man, and that cheese: wondrous mizithra parading to the table, white flakes tumbling hospitably to hurl themselves eagerly onto my mountain of red pasta from their tiny silver bowl.
Of course in my youth it made perfect sense that they wouldn't allow parmesan at such a high end place. Parmesan? Please. That’s for regular folk who eat at home. It comes in a green can that can be mistaken for cleaning product (contents equally as powdered), so it lives in the fridge next to the soy sauce.
And after the spaghetti came the spumoni. What a punctuation mark on those glorious affairs! A dessert served in the same loveable silver bowl and fickle as the wind in its unpredictable ratio of cherry to pistachio to chocolate. Or more accurately, pink to green to brown.
On a hunt to recreate that meal from my childhood I scoured specialty grocers that focused on Italian and then even French ingredients when I moved to LA. I was looking for mizithra. A confused cheese monger finally confirmed that mizithra was actually a Greek cheese, of no relation to Italian cuisine.
Now I would have to settle for Parmaggiano-Reggiano.
It should also be noted that spumoni is not really an Italian flavor, as pointed out by an Italian unapologetically (there’s no other way for an Italian to point something out to you).
It’s just some made up American thing, more defined by its colors than flavors, with some formaldehyde maraschino cherries folded in synthetically bright red.
A garnish, as it happens, that is also traditional of the once-beloved Shirley Temple.