36 Strongs Avenue, Rutland 773-2367
Where was the first pizza served in Vermont? How about the state's first television in a public place? The answer to both is The Palms Restaurant. The eatery opened in 1933, when cobbler Giuseppe Sabatoso's lunches proved so appealing that customers demanded he switch from shoes to steaks. His son Primo was the one who brought pizza to Vermont in 1949, after studying the art of the pie in Troy, NY. And that TV? In 1950 The Palms started airing boxing matches every Friday.
60 years later, I decided to give it a try. As I entered The Palms, a cellist played Nino Rota's theme from The Godfather. The ceilings were covered in stucco, the walls in lattice-work and practically everything else, from windows to lamps, in palm tree designs.
The menu of old-time, red sauce Italian dishes made choosing difficult. Would it be the pork chops, dubbed a hometown favorite? I was tempted by the Manicotti and Meatballs, a combo I'd never seen before. Ultimately, I chose the lasagna al forno (pictured), described as "Grandma Dot's recipe." Grandma Dot knew what she was doing. Wonderfully al dente noodles housed parmesan-rich meatballs, truly sweet Italian sausage and just enough of a cheese blend that didn't go crazy on the ricotta. To my delight, the sauce was more acidic than most restaurant tomato sauces, a sure sign that it was fresh, not a surprise, as The Palms is a member of both the Vermont Fresh Network and Local First Vermont.
And what about the storied pizza? It tasted like history — my history, in the tri-state area. Though served in a deep dish, the slices were pure New York, well-seasoned, with sauce and cheese which blended for an unmistakably rich taste, on a thin crust. They didn't skimp on toppings either, there was practically no visible cheese beneath the pile of sausage and onion. No wonder folks have been coming back for generations.