Braciole is a special-occasion dish in Italian-American households, the sort of dinner centerpiece you might see on a birthday or anniversary. That’s partly because of the amount of kitchen labor it requires.
Recipes usually call for pounding out beef round or a similar cut, and using it to roll up savory fillings, including seasoned bread crumbs and cheeses, prosciutto maybe, and even hard-boiled eggs. Then the little packets are tied up, seared in a hot pan and braised in tomato sauce.
It’s one of the dishes I’ve only had in restaurants. I never understood what the fuss was about until I ate at Panaro’s (571 Delaware Ave., 716-884-1033).
At this small Italian homestyle lunch specialist near Allen Street, the outer wrapper is pork, and the fillings include ground beef and an egg. It adds up to a savory, rich bundle to take apart on a bed of pasta served with simple, fresh-tasting tomato sauce.
It’s available Wednesdays only, and at $9.50, it’s the most expensive dish on the regular menu. But I’d say it’s worth it.
How satisfying was it? That afternoon, if I happened to be lined up against a wall to wait for a firing squad, I would have declined the cigarette. “I’ve finally had good braciole. Just give me the blindfold.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. The stuffed peppers that arrived as an appetizer had already distinguished themselves with stuffing that avoided the spackle syndrome afflicting most versions on Buffalo menus.
Here the filling was clearly bread crumbs, cheese and herbs. I tried to remember if I’d ever had a stuffed pepper with a relatively light payload before, and couldn’t think of one.
Across the table, Kevin Purdy’s “Panaro pizza” was a lovely jumble of grilled cappicolla, roasted red peppers and fresh mozzarella. The crust was a tasty shade of brown, thinner than the usual Buffalo swamp. Its quality reminded me that Panaro’s is a bakery that happens to serve lunch, with an array of cakes-to-order and traditional Italian cookies available on the side.
After the place had gotten so many things right, I let down my guard enough to order a cannoli. After waiting in the cannoli line at the Modern Bakery in Boston’s North End, I’ve avoided specimens that are not filled to order. There’s a lot of moisture in the ricotta filling, and the delicate shells lost their crunch in a jiffy.
At Panaro’s, the server said, they fill cannolis after you order them. There were chocolate chips in the filling, but I couldn’t complain too much. I’d finally had my braciole.