Cari Taylor-Carlson
Dining

Sala Is For Sugo Lovers

Sicilian restaurant has great homemade tomato sauce, generous portions, all delicious and fresh.

By - Feb 3rd, 2017 02:40 pm
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Sala. Photo from restaurant's website.

Sala. Photo from restaurant’s website.

The portions are generous; everything is delicious and fresh; a pasta bowl will easily satisfy two.

Since 2001, Sala, just across Downer Avenue from UW-Milwaukee, has been serving authentic Sicilian dishes in a restaurant that’s both cozy and spacious. Cozy, because the dining room with its dark red walls doubles as an art gallery, making it visually, if not literally intimate. Spacious, because unlike many neighborhood restaurants, Sala’s dining room has well-spaced tables with enough distance between them so that diners have some breathing space.

People who have been around the East Side for a few years may recall the former Actwerks café, restaurant, performance space, and art gallery, a popular neighborhood gathering place at this same address. I remember even back in the 1990s we were parking challenged on Hampshire. Not much has changed except now, there are more cars to compete for the same number of spaces, and more pesky parking checkers lurking, trolling the streets around UWM, ready to slap tickets on our windshields.  Come when students are on break and parking will not be an issue. The rest of the time, it can be a hike from car to table. Just saying!

But it’s worth the extra effort to get real Italian food, and Sala with its Sicilian roots, old family recipes, and a few updates offers pretty much anything aficionados of Italian cuisine could hope for.

Not only do my friends and I enjoy tasty food, we are impressed with the outstanding service. For example, when we mention to our server our coffee is lukewarm, he removes the cups and returns with new cups and hot coffee for all from a new pot. This may be a tiny detail, but I think this speaks to a server serious about pleasing his customers.

We note a plethora of choices, all reasonably priced, on the lunch menu, and if we can believe the descriptions, unquestionably delicious. Since it’s Wednesday, someone orders Mussels, the Daily Special. Unlike classic steamed mussels in white wine with butter and garlic, these mussels are served underneath a briny mornay sauce loaded with capers. It perfectly complements the mild mussels, gives them a voice on the plate without overwhelming them. My companion spoons every drop of her sauce and says, “People who don’t like capers won’t want to order this dish.”

Two friends share a bowl of Asparagus Penne with tomato, onion, and spicy olive oil. There’s plenty of asparagus, enough tomato and onion to coat the al dente penne, while the spicy oil adds a tangy peppery dimension. They use my extra bread to soak the last drops of that spicy oil.

Sugo. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

Sugo sauce. Photo by Cari Taylor-Carlson.

From the pasta menu, we also sample Sugo, the family’s tomato basil sauce served over angel hair pasta. I may not be qualified to pontificate on the quality of multiple tomato sauce varieties I’ve sampled, however, in my opinion, this is the best basic, no-frills tomato sauce I’ve ever tasted. The tomatoes are chopped, not pureed; small chunks of garlic balance with enough basil to remind us this is as promised, an authentic tomato-basil sauce.

In addition to the pasta dish ordered by my companions, I find that same sauce on the Eggplant Parmesan Sub Sandwich. Breaded and fried eggplant smothered with “Sugo,” is topped with a thick layer of melted mozzarella, a hearty sandwich. What makes it worth a shout is that delicious sauce. I appreciate the side salad with garlic vinaigrette instead of the usual fries.

After our server mentions house-made Tiramisu, “our most popular dessert,” we request one serving and five plates. Without missing a beat, he brings the tiramisu to the table, and with a steak knife, divides our dessert into five portions. It’s light, airy, with all the flavor notes we expect, espresso, mascarpone, a hint of something alcoholic, and on top, a layer of dark cocoa powder. The chef dresses the plate with dark chocolate sauce, two puffs of whipped cream, three raspberries, and a spring of mint.

At lunch, the five of us barely touch Sala’s extensive menu which offers so much more. From Starters: Olive Tapenade and Caprese. From Salads: Beet Salad with Arugula; Chicken with Avocado and cranberries; Tenderloin with gorgonzola. After a salad or an appetizer, diners can drop down the menu to entrees such as Da Mare, shrimp and scallops in tomato cream over linguine, or Gnocchi with spinach and gorgonzola cream sauce.

Of course they serve hand tossed pizza. A long list of choices, fourteen to be precise, along with build your own options, both traditional and gourmet, leave my head spinning with so many yummy-sounding combinations. There is one thick crust option, Sfinciuni, with tomato sauce, onion, anchovy, and garlic olive oil. For diet-challenged customers, there’s gluten free pizza for an additional $5.00

Rather than sounding like I’m reading the menu, I’ll quit here. I am happy to eat anything and everything at Sala, especially if it comes smothered in Sugo.

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On the Menu

The Rundown

  • Trade Name: SALA
  • Location: 2613 E. Hampshire Ave.
  • Phone: 414-964-2611
  • Hours: 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Tue-Thu, 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Fri, 5:00 p.m.to 10:00 p.m. Sat
  • Walk Score: 73
  • Website: http://www.salaitalianrestaurant.com/
  • Twitter: https://www.facebook.com/SALAModernSicilian
  • UM Rating: 3.9 stars (average of Yelp, Trip Advisor and Zomato)
  • Menu size: 68
  • Price range food (small plates): $5.00-$17.00
  • Price range food (entrees): $13.00-$34.00
  • Cuisine Style: Italian

One thought on “Dining: Sala Is For Sugo Lovers”

  1. David Hoose says:

    Please add prices for the menu items.

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