Van E. Harl


My mother’s is a great cook but her family is of Irish and German descent so Italian food was not one of her strong areas of culinary expertise. Since she is in the Chicago area and will most likely not see this column, I can tell you her idea of spaghetti when I was a child was enough to make you want to leave home (it did improve greatly later in life).

When I was a child my father the Navy Master Chief was stationed in Scotland, so for two years we tried to learn to eat some of the most boring food in the world. In those days the Scottish people felt you could put anything in a pot of boiling water and call that cooked food and I don’t think it has changed all that must. I mean think about it, have you ever heard someone say there is a great new Scottish restaurant that has just opened in town?

In the summer of 1965 my parents packed our family of five in to a Volkswagen and drove from Scotland to Roma. There I had my first real Italian food. I ate pizza baked in a real wood-fired oven and I discovered Fettuccini. We met some other Navy people for dinner and they wanted spaghetti, but I could only think of my mom’s spaghetti and just said “no”. We were “on the continent” for three weeks with one of those weeks was spent in Italy, so I got to eat my fill of real Italian food. Even after all that great real Italian food, it was not until I was in high school that my mother finally got acquired a decent recipe for spaghetti.

During the winter of 1984-85 I was in Germany. It was the coldest winter on record in forty years so our lives revolved around staying warm and going out to eat. I love German food and for months I would pig out every night. The problem with German food is it is cooked in lard. Now this is why it tasted so good but after months you could almost see the lard seeping out of your pores. It was time to switch to something lighter and of course everyone knows that pasta is lighter than lard.

I was at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany and just to the south of us was the town of Trier. They had some of the best Italian restaurants outside of the nation of Italy. In most cases they were owned and operated by real Italians living in Germany. My last month in Germany was spent driving to Trier almost every night to eat Italian food. In 1985 the American dollar was worth almost three and a half German Marks (it went down to less than one and a half with eighteen months). So you could go out and have a great meal for only a couple of US dollars. You sure can’t do that today with the new Euro money.

Now that I am back in the US for good I am always looking for a great Italian restaurant. I do like the chain restaurants called Macaroni Grill but you have to be in a large city to find one. I love their Chicken Fettuccini and that has become my industry standard to compare other restaurant’s Fettuccini to.

Altus has acquired a new Italian restaurant that has the best Chicken Fettuccini I have ever had. The restaurant, Roma, has opened on Main St. in what use to be the old Kountry Kitchen. It is operated by real Italians who have come over from the “old country” to bring us their cooking skills. As we walked in the first time, unasked, two people we did not know told us to try the Chicken Roma. That is exactly what my wife did and when we went back the second time she did not even bother to look at the menu, she just ordered the Chicken Roma again. I did try hers and it was very good. I however had to order the Chicken Fettuccini and on my return tripe to Roma’s I also did not bother with the menu. My daughter had the Cannelloni and I got to taste some of her food. I will go back and order that. That big problem was I was having menu-envy because the table next to me was eating this great looking pizza.

How do you say Aim High in Italian?