Polina’s Salerno offers decadent Italian classics without pretension.
By Tess Eyrich | Photos by Jody Tiongco
I grew up in the kind of Italian family that ate pasta with homemade red sauce, meatballs and sausage for dinner at least once a week. Even now, the majority of our holiday and special-occasion dinners revolve around my mother’s Italian cooking, which might explain why I’m usually so reluctant to choose an Italian restaurant whenever my boyfriend and I go out to eat. It just feels so blatantly counterintuitive—probably in the same way, I’d assume, that the idea of going out for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich would seem to a “normal” person.
The food at Polina’s Salerno on Beach Street might just be enough to change my mind. Owner Polina Ferrell bought the restaurant in 1995 from the Manzis, the eatery’s founders, for whom she’d previously worked as a waitress since 1977. She describes the transition as “shocking, but in a good way,” adding that she’s made every effort to maintain the original restaurant’s home-style plates while also bringing its menu into the 21st century with upgrades like organic ingredients and gluten-free recipes.
Begin your meal with the fried mozzarella, which Polina’s daughter, Alina Sanchez, says is one of the restaurant’s signature starters. Warm, chewy and drenched in marina sauce, the savory treat is a bold opening act that packs a hearty dose of flavor.
If you’d prefer to ease into dinner with something lighter, try the Gorgonzola pine nut salad, a refreshing blend of romaine lettuce, creamy Gorgonzola cheese, sliced pear and toasted pine nuts topped with a white balsamic vinegar dressing that’s so good, it’ll have you begging Alina for the recipe.
The pasta menu poses a bigger challenge, as it features both a selection of specialty pastas and a build-your-own-pasta segment with a variety of noodles, sauces and add-ons. Traditionalists can take comfort in Polina’s good old-fashioned spaghetti with meatballs, or opt for something slightly more adventurous, like the salmon served over a bed of linguine that’s been tossed in a white wine-infused Sorrento sauce.
The restaurant’s seafood and meat dishes include the option of substituting a pasta side for vegetables. The Chicken Arturo is a standout on the roster of meat dishes and arrives cooked in a light cream sauce with artichokes, mushrooms and red bell peppers.
No Italian dinner would be complete without a slice of homemade tiramisu for dessert, and Polina’s doesn’t disappoint. Airy layers of mascarpone cheese contrast perfectly with notes of coffee and chocolate; this is an indulgence that satisfies without overwhelming. The same can be said for all of the food at Polina’s.