The Grisanti version is made with domestic Gulf white shrimp, mushrooms, garlic, olive oil, and medium-sized spaghetti al dente. My version is made with canned tuna fish, canned mushrooms, olive oil, and whatever pasta I’ve got in the kitchen.
I expected Judd Grisanti, owner of Ronnie Grisanti’s Restaurant, to blow up when I describe my abomination of the Elfo Special, one of his restaurant’s most popular dishes. Instead, he patiently says, “That’s the thing with cooking. Everybody has their own versions of a lot of things. I’m very thankful you’re at home cooking and you’re trying to be doing it — and that the Grisantis had an influence.”
But the good news is that the real Elfo Special is available for curbside takeout at Ronnie Grisanti’s. It’s one of the restaurant’s dishes that’s available as an individual entree or part of a large Grisanti lunch or dinner package.
I asked why the Elfo Special is so special. “I think it’s synonymous with the Grisanti’s restaurant,” Judd says. “This time of year being Lent, my grandfather started making it during Lent.”
I remember talking to Judd’s dad, the late Ronnie Grisanti, about the Elfo Special several years ago. Ronnie told me it was created during Lent as an item for Catholics who couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. Ronnie’s dad, the late Elfo Grisanti, created it in the 1940s at his restaurant, Grisanti’s on Main.
The whole menu isn’t available at Ronnie Grisanti’s, but the restaurant does offer the “Bulk Menu,” which feeds four to five or eight to 10 people. The Bulk Menu is available for lunch and dinner, Judd says. “We have the manicotti, lasagna, Elfo Special, chicken marsala on there. Spaghetti and meatballs. We have other things.”
Ronnie’s also offers evening specials. The day I talked to Judd they were doing a “family four pack” that included “four airline cuts of chicken — wings still attached to the breast — stuffed with prosciutto and smoked mozzarella and marinated in balsamic vinegar, and then oven roasted over plain reggiano parmigiano risotto. And sautéed broccolini. And then you also get a Miss Mary or Caesar salad for four.
“The idea is if they’re getting tired of lasagna or manicotti on the dinner for four, they can say, ‘Let’s see what the special is.’ We give a little more variety. That’s why we’re doing that.”
Desserts are extra. The choices are chocolate cheesecake, tiramisu, and cannolis. All of which are great alternatives to my at-home desserts, which include five-day-old chocolate cake and leftover Valentine’s Day candy.
I asked Judd what his schedule is like these days with curbside service instead of table service. “Just a little bit more hectic. I mean, it’s not bad since we got the routine down. We’ve been really good at it. But every name has a number that goes with it. Just like a table has a number that goes with it. So nothing gets misplaced. Everybody had to come up with their own system and what works for them.
“I think at first we were going with the regular menu. Then we realized people want to feed the family and we’ve got to come up with something else, like the Bulk Menu. For example when everything was normal — back in the normal days — people would order takeout: one Elfo, one filet, one veal marsala, one this or that. Not make it two of this, three of that. They’re trying to simplify their order. Make it much easier to feed the family that way.”
What will remain from this experience when times return to normal at Ronnie Grisanti’s? “I think what we’ll take away from this is we will no longer discourage takeout. Before, when we really got busy in the night, we more or less discouraged takeout. But I think we’re well trained in it now.”
And not only do you get takeout of popular Ronnie Grisanti dishes, you also can buy grocery items. Customers can make their own Grisanti cuisine, including the Elfo Special, at home. “We have people calling in. They can buy the spaghetti, the shrimp, garlic, and butter and put it up at home at their leisure.”
The Grisanti grocery list also includes its Pomodoro sauce, meat sauce, the raviolis, iceberg lettuce, mushrooms, and more. “The biggest thing, of course, is our ground beef chuck — it’s a blend that we put together — and Italian sausage. Salmon sells real well. And shrimp sells very well.”
Ronnie Grisanti’s was giving away a special item the day I called. “If you get an order to go, you get a complimentary toilet paper,” Judd says. “Mont Royale toilet paper.”
That’s also one of the items on the restaurant’s grocery list.
Ronnie Grisanti’s Restaurant is at 6150 Poplar, Suite 122, in the Regalia Shopping Center. (901) 850 0191.