Ciao America with Mario Batali

Ciao America with Mario Batali

(Food Network, 2003-'04) cooking series

Ciao America title card, cropped

Batali (or his producers) was sufficiently impressed with Little Rhody's cuisine scene that he slipped segments filmed here into at least three episodes of this short-lived show.

In S1E8, "Italian Snack Food" (aired December 10, 2003), Mario's looking for an Italian snack, and, among other places, he's drawn to Rhode Island.

The segment begins with a shot from Providence's Memorial Boulevard, looking past the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America and up the Moshassuck River. Mario's then shown ambling down Atwells Avenue, past Andino's Restaurant.

Suddenly the camera's inside a "no-frills joint called Caserta Pizzeria." Instead of saying "caSURda's," like anyone from Rhode Island would, though, he says "caSEARta PIZaREEuh" (rolling the Rs). It's rather disconSEARting, reminiscent of the way that normally white-bread NPR reporters in the '80s would refer to the conflict in "Nichhhhhhhhhoragua."

Mario's idea of an Italian snack is Caserta's "signature stuffed pizza," the Wimpy Skippy, which is really a spinach pie stuffed with cheese and pepperoni. Mario helps make some, and we learn that Caserta's goes through two tons of cheese and 500 pounds of pepperoni in a week—probably about the same as Mario himself. The secret to the popularity of Caserta's crust, says baker John Campagnone, lies in one of the ingredients. "Rhode Island water makes it good," he claims, somehow managing to keep a straight face.

Wimpy Skippy, 2006
A Wimpy Skippy. (January 22, 2006).

Batali: Where'd the name Wimpy Skippy come from?
Campanone: Wimpy Skippy, they were guys that hung out together on the Avenue, because they came here so often, the owners, what they did is they named one of their calzones after their two best friends.
B.: One was Wimpy and one was Skippy?
C.: Yes.
B.: Cool.

After proclaiming "This is the perfect snack food," Mario then appears at Al Forno for some high-falutin', thin-crust, fire-grilled pizza. It's one of those places where instead of shaking on spices, they squish a leaf and drop it on the top.

We couldn't help but notice, however, that Mario did not try (or even mention) Rhode Island's own pizza strips. The Food network shall be notified.

We haven't yet seen S2E3, "Menu of the Day" (aired February 18, 2004), in which the Ocean State supplies the local backdrop for a preparation of seafood ravioli.

S2E4, "America's Little Italys," however, we have seen. It first aired on February 25, 2004. The Rhode Island segment starts with Batali walking along with the automated post office in the background (Did he mail himself to Rhode Island? In a big, big box?). Suddenly he's slouching down Atwells Avenue to Mediterraneo (closed in 2015) where they add "a little American flair" to traditional antipasti. In this case, American flair means deep frying breaded mozzarella with basil and Parma ham in a li'l treat they call "mozzarella in a carriage," (Which sounds way classier than "Cheesy Camaro").

Mozzarella in a carriage makes cardiologists cry. Won't anyone think of the cardiologists?

(Of course it should be noted that, Batali having been swept up in the Me Too wave of the late 2010s, one is unlikely to come across any episodes of this or any other Batali show rerunning on broadcast, On Demand, or streaming service. So these contemporary descriptions, complete with cringy fat-shaming japes, will have to fill the void).

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