Bryan Richardson
Sal's Famous Italian Kitchen
2731 N Killingsworth

I love the little guy. The independent restaurant where the owner works the bar or grill. A place like No Fish! Go Fish! or Navarre, where an individual person genuinely appreciates your presence in their restaurant. But sometimes I also like the comfortable anonymity of a restaurant like Sal's. Sal's Famous Italian Kitchen, launched by the Pizzacato clan, is smartly designed, with a considerable budget, making for a comfortable, stylized Italian restaurant with a huge, quality menu. The servers at Sal's are largely of the generic variety, kids are running around, and they close at nine o'clock on the weekdays (10 on weekends)--but damnit, they make a solid pizza or plate of pasta at an excellent value.

Sal's has sprouted up on the new hip corner of Greely and Killingsworth, next to Mio Sushi, finally giving a restaurant-starved neighborhood a place to hang. The people are trampling down the door... and why not? With perfectly constructed calamari, lightly breaded with the soft meat of the squid peeking through, Sal's obviously knows what they're doing. Salads are piled high, and made with crisp, fresh lettuce, and the antipasti platter comes layered with every meat under the sun. Sal's New York style pizza has a flawless thin crust, and while they might overdo it a bit on the garlic, simply ask for less if you'll be making out with someone later in the evening.

Sal's noodle dishes are generous and well prepared. The linguini with clams had a deliciously simple garlic and white wine broth, and about a dozen of the biggest, juiciest fresh clams I've ever seen. The restaurant's "famous" ragu is chunky with pieces of meat, onions, and garlic, and while the sauce could have used a bit more zing, it was still very good tossed with strips of fresh pappardelle pasta. The wild mushroom ravioli, on the other hand, had zing aplenty, and tasted as if it was stuffed with gorgonzola rather than the mozzarella/ricotta blend listed on the menu.

Warning--only order Sal's lasagna if you're a fan of rich food, because the thick layers of creamy bechamel, ricotta, and mozzarella make for a daring dish, and one that just might clog an artery. Likewise, the restaurant serves up diet killers like fettuccine carbonara, and bucatini amatriciana--long tube pasta ladled with marinara sauce peppered with salty pancetta (a fancy word for bacon). I had this dish on a trip to Italy, and ended up ordering it every day for a week. So salty, so delicious.

The best thing about Sal's is the quality throughout the menu. Even though a few of the entrees could use a little more restraint--the lasagna, for example--I don't get the impression you'd ever be served a dish, or a dessert (the tiramisu is amazing) with a rating below a solid "good." The consistency is, of course, the exact reason people flock to a restaurant like Sal's. Because you know everyone in the group will get something they like, and no one will be left staring at their plate sulking, whining, or embarrassing the hell out of you by sending their dinner back.