Vince Rallo ran a friendly establishment, with time-tested food

Beloved restaurant owner died this week

July 08, 2011|Jacques Kelly

Both of my grandmothers made their own chicken noodle soup, and the results were spectacular. My Poultney Street grandma put a touch of whole tomato in hers. My Guilford Avenue grandmother made her own egg noodles and dried them over a radiator. After their deaths in the 1970s, I despaired of ever having good noodle soup again.

About 30 years ago, I made a visit to Vince Rallo's restaurant. One spoonful of his chicken noodle soup, and I was back in a circa 1955 Baltimore kitchen, well-fed and happy. Soon other members of my family became Rallo's regulars. My father, Joe Kelly, had a bowl of soup with him a few weeks ago. Vince, who died of cancer this week, stayed at his post nearly until the end. We'll miss this gentleman.

I cannot recall precisely who ushered me into the Fort Avenue restaurant that Vince and his family had run for so many years. It may have been one of Locust Point's dynamos, Shirley Doda, an undertaker by profession and an acclaimed civic activist. Shirley once beat William Donald Schaefer and his plan to place a bridge adjoining — and spoiling — Fort McHenry. She got the highway put in a tunnel, but not before she dressed her neighbors in gorilla suits and protested before City Hall. She carried signs saying, "Don't monkey with Locust Point."

Doda was a Rallo's regular. So was Schaefer. So were both my parents — and in an odd turn, my mother chose to appoint Shirley as her personal undertaker. They became great chums, perhaps over a bowl of Rallo's sweet chili. If there were friendlier Baltimore eating establishments, I do not know them. You didn't just go to Rallo's to eat, you went to visit. This wasn't hard. The regulars would be at their posts, same table, stool or booth.

My brother Eddie, who lives in the family's Poultney Street home, recalled that Vince ran a serious, clean and tight operation, one that perhaps mirrored the serious side of his personality. With Vince, everything was polite smiles, a breezy style and personal attention. But I got the feeling he was a strict business manager. Perhaps it was his many years in banking that made him that way. He knew his patrons and their pocketbooks, and winced when he had to raise prices. I also think that his upbringing around food service taught him a few things.

The consistency of his food was incredible. If you had a hankering for a turkey club sandwich, it tasted the same one day to another. I forget how many times I've recommended his sour beef and dumplings, knowing it would always be good. Even his iced tea was better than most places.

I often took people there who considered themselves to be good cooks, even foodies in search of the next hot place. Plain-as-linoleum Rallo's always charmed.

Vince and I often chatted about how South Baltimore and Locust Point were changing from a working, blue-collar area to the place where the Ritz-Carlton condos landed. I tremendously respected that Vince stayed with his time-tested menus and never forgot those of us who want fried scrapple or Spanish omelets. If anything, he preserved a forgotten way of eating, and certainly a style of cooking that is disdained, unknown by the graduates of the culinary arts schools. How many menus still list raisin toast at breakfast, salmon cakes or a braunschweiger sandwich? There was no goat cheese in his kitchen.

Vince kept his standards high until the end. My only regret is that I didn't get there more often while he was alive. I can still taste the bread pudding.

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