For 88 years, residents of Louisville have been coming to the Blue Parrot for spaghetti and meatballs, for ravioli and sausage sandwiches, for lunch and dinner, because that's the kind of respect historic joints in small towns get — and also because for a long time there just wasn't much of a choice (which is often how joints become historic in small towns). Louisville was a mining town back in the day — a dot on the map surrounded by farms, heavily populated by Italian immigrant miners and their families. Today it's an exurb with real-estate prices going through the roof and storefronts offering massage, herbal teas and tai chi classes. But at the Blue Parrot, not much has changed since the Colacci family first opened it.
One important thing that isn't changing is the restaurant's signature sandwich, the Wopburger, despite the fact that an East Coast transplant named John Gambino recently objected to the name. Gambino said he was offended by the wop appellation — an Ellis Island abbreviation for "without papers," used to describe yesterday's illegals, those immigrants arriving from Europe sans documentation, visas, passports — and complained all the way to the Washington, D.C.-based National Italian American Foundation. But in the end, current owner Joan Riggins — stepdaughter of Dixie and Joe Colacci, who had the restaurant before her — decided that the Wopburger was here to stay.
A good thing, too, because not only would I stand up for just about anyone's right to call just about anything just about anything, but because the Wopburger is a pretty good sandwich. It consists of a flat patty of good, mild Italian sausage, seared on the flat grill, covered with cheese, juiced with a shot of the Parrot's namesake red sauce from the repurposed syrup carafe brought out to every table, and served between two pieces of grilled, buttered Italian bread. It's a sandwich I'd eat a lot if I lived next door to the Parrot; a sandwich I'll certainly eat again next time I'm in the mood and the neighborhood. But the rest of my lunch this past weekend? Not so much. The homemade spaghetti was heavy (thick in the noodle, a bit stiff, but banal in the extreme), the ravioli waterlogged, the mozzarella sticks straight from a freezer bag, and the meatballs so oddly flavorless that they might as well have been made out of sawdust or bread.
But while I'm not in any hurry for another drive to Louisville to visit the Parrot, I'm still glad it's here, in the same way I'm glad to see any place in this country approaching the century mark. I'm glad to see owners who don't back down in the face of stupidity and political correctness, who care more about local tradition than social edicts passed down from afar. And I'm glad that the Wopburger will remain the Wopburger, because I just don't know if it would taste as good if it were named the "Italian burger." A rose by any other name...
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