There a long line out the door, and the big friendly bear of a guy behind the counter is moving with the kind of speed and grace that Anthony Bourdain reserves for cooks and kitchen crew.
He's gently picking up the bright arancini with tongs and dropping these deep-fried breaded globes the size and color of large oranges into boxes. At the same time he's alternating between English and Italian banter, chatting and greeting customers and doing the math for the bill in his head, all at the same time, with the nonchalance of Larry Bird pulling off a no-look fast pass into an unguarded corner.
At $1.85 each, the arancini are popular and go fairly fast; lots of folks like the sunny crisp bread-crumbed surface, the fluffy rice and the hearty stuffing of stewed beef and soft peas. It's the first time I've had one in the US, my last dozen or so I cosumed on the streets of Naples and its environs. The Napoliteans make it with a risotto-like rice filling that I prefer, but Galleria Umberto's version is amiable, like a good friend from my past that has lost some weight.
The line moves efficiently, clicked on by an easy smile or nod from the counter guy. There's a human soul behind the greetings. Right now he's totally in the groove, focusing his brow as he pulls out boxes and foil and paper, wrapping, plating, grabbing plastic utensils and hollering to the kitchen for stuff that have run out. It's busy but he's honestly happy to be there. Once in a while, he runs back to grab a huge tray of good hot Silician style pizza. It's a steal at 85-cents for a decent square of moderately bready crust, parchement brown and crisp at the bottom, and topped with an affable tomato sauce and stringy mozzarella.
My favorite is probably the panzarotti, a fried potato ball. Beneath the fried breadcrumbed shell is a cloud of potato specked by green herbs. The filling is fluffy and warm, and the vapors and flavors that it exudes are filled with every sensuous nuance of potato. For 85-cents it'll make a potato lover out of everyone.
The delicious simplicity of Galleria Umberto makes it perfect as a lunch spot. They're open at 11 in the morning and close in the early afternoon, when stuff runs out. I'm getting the calzones next time.
Lastly, a big great thanks to my neighbors and Eric Eto for pointing out this great chowish place to me.
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