It’s over-rated, mainly because of two very insane stars that Pete Wells awarded last year, thereby instantly insulting every real one- or two-star restaurant in town. Parm is a two-star restaurant like I’m the Queen of England.
But if we step back from the ledge beyond which madness lies, Parm is good for what it is, a slightly over-achieving neighborhood sandwich shop.
The one-page menu doesn’t change much: it’s kept inside of a plastic sleeve, to keep it presentable and avoid re-printing costs. There are a bunch of veggies, pastas and fried foods for sharing (various items, $6–14), sandwiches and platters ($9–17), and then just one entrée served every day, a Veal Parm that comes in three sizes ($16, $22, $25). Nightly dinner specials (keyed to the day of the week, and apparently unchanging) are $25.
All of this happens in a tiny space next to the chefs’ first hit restaurant, Torrisi Italian Specialties. We dropped in at around 6:00pm on a Saturday evening, with the tables full, but ample space available at the bar. The tables looked awfully cramped and dark: even if there’d been one vacant, I think the bar was the better bet.
[Note: For some reason, all of my photos came out with a pinkish hue. If the ambient lighting was pink, I certainly didn’t notice it at the time. Anyhow, I didn’t try to repair them, so here they are in their pink glory.]
Pizza Knots ($5; above left) are a great sharing dish. Parm doesn’t serve pizza, so this isn’t what it is at most restaurants (leftover dough from the pizza oven). It’s just a really good dish in its own right. Naturally, they send out three of them, an awkward quantity to share.
Potatoes ($7; above center) are described on the menu as “smashed and crispy”. They’re so good that we put in a second order.
The menu doesn’t say so, but if you’ve already ordered full entrées, they’ll send out a half-order of Baked Ziti at half the usual price ($6; above right). It’s a perfect realization of what you want this dish to be, with its topping of fluffy ricotta.
The Meatball Parm ($12; above left) is the dish that sent Pete Wells to heaven and back. You can have it on a roll or a hero ($3 more). I’d do the roll next time. What they call a meatball is really more in the shape of a burger patty, and a very good one, served medium rare, but it’s a gooey mess and doesn’t fit in a hero roll very well.
Veal Milanese ($25; above right) is one of those day-of-the-week specials. My son thought it was merely okay, and at $25, seems quite a bit over-priced in relation to the rest of the menu.
There’s a modest wine and cocktail menu, the latter with goosed-up classics like the Mulberry Punch, the Chinatown Sling and the Beet Negroni (all $12), all in the spirit of what is obviously meant to be a nostalgic place. Service is just fine. (Disclosure: one cocktail was comped.)
While Parm should never have come within sniffing distance of two stars, it’s very good for what it is. I wouldn’t stand in line to get in, as people do at prime times, but if if you’re in the area and there’s a seat at the bar, by all means drop in for a sandwich or a snack.
Parm (248 Mulberry Street between Prince & Spring Streets, NoLIta)
Food: Italian–American classics, mostly sandwiches
Service: First-rate, for this type of place
Ambiance: A long, but narrow bar and some cramped tables