POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 5, 2012:
Noodles 'n sauce served up Old World style
Mary's Italian Trattoria
1313 E. 15th St., 918-585-2495
TUES-FRI, 11AM-1PM; TUES-THUR, 5-9PM; FRI-SAT, 5-10PM
Food: 3 out of 5 stars
Atmosphere: 3 out of 5 stars
Service: 4 out of 5 stars
Italian cuisine may be one of the first "exotic" cuisines we are introduced to. For many unfortunate cases, that first experience was served up by Chef Boyardee. I, however, had the distinct honor of having an Italian great-grandmother, or "Mamooch," who was the real deal. Homemade noodles? You bet! An out-of-this-world red gravy? I miss it to this very day.
Many don't realize there is a version of Little Italy right here in Oklahoma, near McAlester in the small community of Krebs. The food isn't like the Italian food many restaurants produce. There is something more rustic and less over-produced about the cuisine as Italians integrated their dishes to what was available to them here. Mary's Trattoria is an extension of this Oklahoma-Italian tradition, serving up classic Italian in an understated way.
Mary's Trattoria is nestled in the slick surroundings of Cherry Street. As sleek new restaurant concepts with modern menus emerged, Mary's has somehow maintained its own flavor and identity. Being able to park and enter from the back added to the experience of finding a secret passageway to another culture, like you see in old mobster movies. The interior of Mary's is bright, with items from the days of yore lining the walls and even the ceilings. These items were familiar to me, bringing back memories of my great-grandmother. The menu was also a line-up of nostalgic Italian dishes.
The Appetizers at Mary's are simple and to-the-point. Breadsticks ($3.95) or Garlic Cheese Toast ($7.95) are carby go-to's, and the Roasted Artichoke Hearts ($8.95) and Antipasto ($) with a selection of Italian meats and cheeses can also get you started. My gaze strayed to the salad and soup section, because I can't resist a good Caesar. The waiter also recommended the Mushroom Soup ($3.95), which also piqued my interest.
The Caesar Salad ($4.95) arrived with sturdy green leaves of romaine lettuce, bathed in a more oil-based dressing and sprinkled with parmesan shreds. The dressing was bright and lemony, but didn't have much depth beyond that. A sprinkle of salt helped draw a bit of the bitter out of the leafy greens.
Almost on cue, the soup arrived as I took my last bite of my ensalada. Though the timing was impeccable, the first impression was unremarkable. First, I understand creating a cream-based soup in large quantities is challenging; but this was just warm milk with mushrooms. On first glance, I could see the layer of oil collecting on the surface, while the heavy chunks of mushroom sank to the bottom. It tasted as good as it looked, unfortunately, and the waiter even noticed the soup was untouched as he cleared the table for the main course.
The menu is bursting with all the classic Italian main dishes imaginable, but they make it manageable by splitting it up among Beef, Chicken, Tortellini, Ravioli, Seafood and Vegetarian sections. But really, it's all about the sauces. From standard Spaghetti & Meatballs ($11.95) to alfredo to Bolognese, the menu makes all the stops in between.
My favorite dining paisono joined me for the evening and his heart was set on Lasagna ($15.95). It was an epic-sized portion of lasagna, piping hot with bubbling mozzarella on top of layers upon layers of noodles, ground beef, and ricotta cheese. A heaping ladle of chunky red sauce covered the mammoth masterpiece, studded with onion and garlic. The sauce had strong notes of oregano, which lent to the comment "this is exactly how a tomato sauce should taste." The noodle-to-meat proportion was spot on and the flavor was robust yet balanced.
I decided to venture to the more exotic side of Italian fare with the Veal Marsala ($16.95) served with fettuccine alfredo. Two slender slices of veal were lightly pan fried and doused in a velvety brown Marsala sauce topped with large slices of tender mushrooms. The slightly-sweet signature of Marsala sauce didn't overwhelm the delicate flavor of the veal. Combining the meat and sauce, with one of those mushrooms in the mix, made for a perfect bite.
I was also interested in their legendary home-made fettuccini noodles and am always on the hunt for an outstanding alfredo sauce. The noodles were spectacular, cooked to a perfect al dente with the ideal thickness for a fettuccini noodle. The alfredo sauce -- usually a creamy, cheesy sauce with a parmesan punch -- was far from an upper-cut. Much like the soup, it was just sort of "there," with no real flavor, no seasoning or texture, and just the sparest hint of parmesan. In a way, it was a waste of a perfect noodle.
The dishes from Mary's Trattoria were, for the most part, hit and miss, especially for the price. I had high hopes for this Cherry Street mainstay, and perhaps the bar was set a little too high by my upbringing. However, I can't deny the authenticity and appreciate their straight-forward approach to Italian cuisine.
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