Traveling with Twain

In Search of America's Identity

Road food. Favorite food. Did I mention food?

Presti's Bakery in Cleveland's Murray Hill neighborhood

Yes, today’s interviews at agencies serving the poor and homeless of Cleveland are enlightening. But I really appreciate the break from the tragedy and trauma for lunch at Presti’s Bakery, 12101 Mayfield Road, a fixture on Murray Hill, Cleveland’s Little Italy, opened by Rose and Charles Presti Sr. in 1903.

Unlike Chicago’s Little Italy, Cleveland’s is alive and fun. La Barberia offers “martini and manicure every Tuesday night.” Carbo’s Bakery Café asks customers to “leave the gun, take the cannoli,” and sells T-shirts that proclaim “You Bet Your Bocce Balls I’m Italian.”

At Presti’s Dan orders a veggie Stromboli and a tortellini, Alyssa a meatball sandwich and I a huge Italian sandwich, with ham, copocollo, salami, lettuce, tomato, provolone, pepper rings, pickle and cole slaw.

The woman who serves us insists that you can judge a good deli by its chicken salad and its carrot cake. So Dan and Alyssa also choose a carrot cake that quickly disappears.

Alyssa presents us with tough food questions. What are our favorite cuisines? Our favorite foods? Our favorite desserts?

Dan votes for Mexican as his favorite cuisine. I select Italian and Chinese, and Alyssa chooses Middle Eastern/Mediterranean.

Favorite foods: Dan, his mother’s noodle soup; Alyssa, a falafel sandwich from a popular Paris haunt; Loren, the Ghiglione family spaghetti dinner, where the magic ingredient is a thick sauce that starts with a huge pot roast cooked forever, topped with fresh, chopped vegetables.

Owner Michael Presti

Favorite desserts: Dan, cheesecake; Alyssa, “a little thing, sort of like a cake, chocolatey, there is a wafer in it”; Loren, a “Mindy,” a chocolate cake first tasted at the home of my parents-in-law.

The best news about Presti’s occurs at the end of our lunch. We meet Michael Presti, 39, the restaurant’s pastry chef and the fourth generation of Presti family ownership. Michael says he has a two-year-old son, Charlie. So there may be fifth Presti generation ownership.

Loren Ghiglione

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