Friday, March 12, 2010

Lunch In A Tough Economy

After my first visit to Vaccaro's Trattoria back in May 2009, I was so impressed with my visit that I immediately signed up for their email feed by filling out a little card while finishing up paying for my meal. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to subscribe to this feed on their website. And while the restaurant sends out updates on their Facebook group page, they have yet to make the most of all of the current social media networks (specifically Twitter). One network they have been very good at utilizing is their email feed and the sending out of timely emails detailing current specials. I have taken advantage of these specials in the past and decided that one of their current specials was just too good to pass up.

I had received an email from Vaccaro's both last week and this promoting their weekday $6 lunch special. For a measly $6, you get to choose from one of three salads, one of two soups, and one of four sandwiches, all of which will come out on one plate. Since I happened to be in the Bath / Montrose area last Thursday for other business, I decided to stop in for lunch and try it out for myself.

I arrived at around 11:30 am to find a mostly empty dining room. A mere thirty minutes later and the place was really hopping. After the hostess sat me at my table, she left me with the lunch menu (which was more than just the $6 special) to peruse at my leisure:

While the regular lunch prices were very reasonable, I had come only armed with a $10 bill in my wallet and a hunger in my stomach. Here was the "Lunch On A Platter" portion of the lunch menu:

The salad and soup choices were fairly easy for me to make. Having tried some of these menu items in my previous visits, I decided to make an effort to get something new this time. My salad would be the Caesar and my soup would be the daily special; today it was Chicken Piccata. The only question for me was which sandwich to pick. While they all sounded good, I was mysteriously drawn towards the tuna melt. I had never actually had a tuna melt before and the thought occurred to me that if Raphael Vaccaro had put it on his menu, it had to be good.

I placed my order with my server and sat back in my chair to catch up on the news on my smartphone. In what came as a bit of a surprise, my server returned with both a plate of grated cheese in olive oil,

but also a trio of breads in which to dip it:

Here you had the housemade focaccia, a multi-grain bread and a baguette-style bread. All three were fresh and delicious and a welcome sight to this hungry diner. The fact that Vaccaro's could offer bread service in addition to the lunch trio I had ordered all for only $6 was quite remarkable. I had to remind myself not to fill up on bread and oil as my lunch would soon be arriving.

And sure enough, after a short interval, it did:

The Caesar salad was dressed in a more acidic dressing than I am normally used to on this type of salad. It wasn't too lemony, but you could definitely pick up on the lemon juice. Some might prefer this version, it felt lighter on my palate. Personally, I prefer the heavier, less acidic version. The salty and savory qualities from the shaved Parmesan on top of the salad helped to tame some of the bright lemon flavor. You can't see them from the picture above, but just below the surface were a number of very tasty homemade croutons. They added a lovely saltiness and textural element to the dish.

Next up on the plate was the tuna melt:

Comprised of house made tuna salad on a split and toasted ciabatta roll and topped with cheddar cheese, this was a very delicious sandwich. Besides the brunoise of sweet peppers and celery in the tuna salad, with every bite I took, I noticed a very mild, but particular spicy zip and acidic zing. Nothing overpowering, just enough to make it interesting. I had thought that maybe they were employing a chili mayonnaise in the tuna salad, but after asking my server about it, she consulted the kitchen staff and learned that they were adding a very thin layer of Frank's Red Hot onto the bread before topping it with tuna salad and cheese. That little extra bit of something, or je ne sais quoi, was just what was needed to take the sandwich from good to great.

The third component of my trio was the Chicken Piccata soup:

From my first bite to my last, this was a tasty soup. It had all of the wonderful elements of a good chicken piccata: strong lemon flavor, nice briny capers, and tender chicken. Each of the elements balanced well with its companions. It reminded me of another successful "entree" meal that had been turned into a soup, the lasagna soup at Twig's Diner. The only minor complaint that I had with today's soup du jour was that it came out of the kitchen not quite as hot as I would've liked. That didn't stop me from eating the entire bowl, of course.

As I finished my lunch today, I realized that this was the absolute perfect amount of food to fill me up. So many times I've gone to restaurants and wished that I could get an appropriate amount of food (usually half of what is usually served) for a smaller amount of money. So often I feel that the American diner thinks that if they don't have an overabundance of food being served on the plate, then there is little value for the dollar. Personally, I love that for only $6, I was served just the right amount to fill me up and I didn't have to worry about futzing around with leftovers.

To my surprise, at the height of the lunch rush, Chef Raphael came out to the dining room to speak with several customers. He noticed me sitting in the corner of the dining room and approached for a brief conversation. I complimented him on my meal and told him that I noticed a lot of people had ordered the $6 special. He acknowledged that it was indeed a very popular special and that in this current economy, he felt like he needed to offer something filling and tasty that didn't break the bank. Honestly, I hope he keeps this special or a variation of it on the lunch menu even after the economy recovers. It represents a nice way to get fed great made-from-scratch food without being overfed and at the same price point as a McDonald's value meal.

While I knew that the meal was going to only be $6, in the back of my mind there was still a bit of disbelief; that is, until this arrived at my table:

$6.41 with tax. Extraordinary! If Vaccaro's Trattoria was right around the corner, I would be in serious trouble as I'd be eating there for lunch at least three times a week. With the two dozen or so combinations between salads, soups, and sandwiches that make up one of their lunch platters, you will have plenty of options from which to choose. Even if you decide to order one of the other lunch items from the menu, from my previous visits in the past, I'm sure you will not be disappointed. I definitely recommend that you give Vaccaro's Trattoria a chance if you are in the area.

Raphael Vaccaro, Owner and Chef of Vaccaro's Trattoria responds:


Thanks for all the great compliments. It is people like yourself that motivate me in this tough business! The only correction I have is the website is now complete with FB, Twitter, Reservations, Ring Me, and all menu's. Take a look. I think you will like it.



Mahala said...

This is such a great deal! For more money you can get a bad food at any number of local chains. Support our locally owned restaurants!

Tino said...

@Mahala: You are so right ... it is so easy to get a mediocre to bad meal for MORE than $6. Why even bother when you can enjoy such fantastic food for less?

DianeS said...

I hope they continue this lunch special and I hope that I remember it come summer.

I end up stopping at Subway for a veggie sandwich at least one or twice a summer when I go down to Crown Point to pick up our CSA share and am running around crazy and hungry.

I would much rather drive a minute further down the road for Vaccaro's!

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