Mama Ninfa's Naples sauce is put to great use in this Sunday Gravy at Laurenzo's on Bagby. (Photos courtesy Laurenzo's)
It labels itself a bar and grill, but this place is something more than that. It’s a large space, with an interior divided clearly and aesthetically into a bar and a dining room. Yes, it has a bar, but the food on offer is a bit more than what usually comes to mind when one hears “grill.”
I am talking about Laurenzo’s Bar & Grill, which opened recently on Bagby Street. It’s part of the Laurenzo group, a family with a rich history in the Houston restaurant world. Therefore, the menu here is full of items that have been cooked in Laurenzo kitchens for a long time, such as El Tiempo Fajitas Mixtas, Famous Crab Enchilada, and Sunday Gravy.
It’s the latter about which I want to tell you. The menu states it’s legendary Houston restaurant pioneer Mama Ninfa’s recipe, and I believe it. It’s rich, and rustic, and one can imagine a large — really large — pot of this “gravy” bubbling in Ninfa’s kitchen on Sunday morning, ready to feed a large cast of family and friends.
Chef Donny Navarrete, who runs the place here, is thoughtful and experienced — if you get the chance to talk food with him, do it — and what he doing with the pasta in this dish is very good. It’s made in the restaurant, and it’s fresh and supple, the perfect pairing for the tomato-based Mama Ninfa’s Naples sauce (it’s a touch spicy, and pepperoni is in the mix). A forkful of this, the pasta and sauce and meats, took my heart and palate back to a little restaurant in Port Chester, New York, where Piero Rosaspina has been serving some of my favorite food for more than 23 years or so. This is authentic.
You get a sense of the time that goes into this sauce from your first look. It’s thick, and sits fresh in the bowl. Olive oil most certainly is a component, and some red pepper flakes.
Then the scent of the dish hits you, and it seems as if it’s Sunday at your favorite aunt’s, even if you happen to be in Laurenzo’s on a Monday evening. The meatballs are moist and tender, not dried out and tired, and the pork butt and Italian sausage are anything but afterthoughts.
This is no replica of a traditional family meal, but the real thing. It’s served with sourdough bread that when warm is as satisfying as it should be. You’ll use it to gather the remaining gravy when you near the bottom of the bowl.