Food Snob Chronicles — Is it sauce? Or gravy? (Recipe: Sun-dried Tomato Gravy)

A rose, by any other name … might just be a Hibiscus. Or a Portulaca grandiflora! Such alternate names for vittles can be just as confusing.

Is it macaroni? Or pasta?
The answer all depends on whether you’re watching The Sopranos or The Brady Bunch.

Macaroni is technically … pasta made from durum wheat. Pasta is technically … made from durum wheat. In the U.S., we typically use macaroni to describe the shape — undoubtedly a result of that little blue box from Kraft that so many of us grew up on.

Unless you’re asking someone from New Jersey, where spaghetti & meatballs is commonly referred to as macaroni and Sunday gravy. More on that in a minute.

Is it a pizza? Or a pie?
My wife once called a local (east Texas) pizzeria and ordered two pies — one plain and the other with pepperoni and extra sauce. The response from the young lady on the phone: “Ma’am, we don’t sell pies. We are a pizza shop.”

Apparently, the moon hadn’t hit her eye like a big pizza pie. Rather, she was singing a song of sixpence.

Accepted definitions for pie are almost boundless — sweet pies; savory pies; pot pies; hand pies; pizza pies; and the list goes on… That said, ordering a pepperoni pie at a pizza shop shouldn’t exactly be an enigma to the counter help.

Did you know? Italian lawmakers in 2004 adopted a standard for Neapolitan pizza. Among other rules, Neapolitan pizza may not be called such unless it is round; no more than 14 inches in diameter and no thicker than 0.1 inches in the middle.

Hoagies, Subs and Grinders
And, lest we forget the hero…

A certain national chain aims to change what everyone calls the sandwich served on the six-inch roll. Such an accomplishment would make ordering a little easier for the New Yorker visiting a Maine sandwich shop. But is such homogenization really necessary?

The submarine is the most widely used name for a sandwich of cold cuts, lettuce and such on a long roll. Legend has it that the name came from a New Jersey grocer in the early 20th century and is named for the underwater craft. The hoagie was born about the same time, right down the road in Philadelphia. The name reportedly evolved from the Hog Island sandwich. The grinder, a product of New England, has several legends attached to it. My favorite is the one crediting the hard bread requiring one to grind teeth. And then there’s the hero. Word has it that a journalist popularized the name. Another legend claims that the name is a take-off of the gyro.

Throw in the po’ boy (New Orleans), bomber (upstate NY) or the torpedo (northeast) and you still end up with the same fun sandwich.

Sauce? Or gravy?
During my early days in talk radio, an on-air debate about sauce vs. gravy was among the most popular shows I experienced. And our program was aired in the South, where gravy is traditionally made with meat drippings, flour and liquid.

I was raised on the flour-and-milk and sawmill gravy types, so it is no secret where I stood at the time.

Then, I married a Yankee.

Gravy, where my (New York-born) wife comes from is a whole different ballgame involving tomatoes, Italian sausages and a lot of garlic and basil. Yep. It’s what we Southerners grew up calling sauce.

All I can (now) say is that both are delicious and that everyone is right.

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Tomato Gravy in the South is an entirely different concoction that the stuff served on Sundays in the Northeast. Both have tomatoes, but the similarities stop there as the southern version is flour-thickened. My tomato gravy is probably closer to the northeast version, since it’s thickened by simply reducing. But it’s served southern style.

Sun-dried Tomato Gravy

Sun-dried Tomato Gravy. A taste of the northeast, served Southern style.

Sun-dried Tomato Gravy. A taste of the northeast, served Southern style.

Sun-dried Tomato Gravy.
Sun-dried Tomato Gravy. A taste of the northeast, served Southern style.
Recipe type: Sauce
Serves: 1½ cups
  • 1½ cups – Beef stock
  • 3 TB – Tomato paste
  • 2 TB – Sun Dried Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 TB – Soy sauce
  • 2 tsp – Dried Oregano
  • 1 tsp – Black pepper
  • 2 – Garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 TB – Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  1. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, saute garlic cloves in olive oil until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Combine remainder of ingredients and add to saucepan, stirring regularly. Mixture should come to a light boil within about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Cook another 2-3 minutes after it comes to the light boil, or until gravy is slightly reduced and thickened.
  4. Serve over meatloaf, mashed potatoes, rice, pasta — or macaroni.



  1. Taking On Magazines says:

    I love that you never cease to educate me, make me smile and titillate my taste buds all at the same time. Thanks for that. Also love that we both posted meatloaf….kind of. I needed your gravy over my loaves. :)

    • Thank you, Mom Chef! I’m honestly too scared to post a meatloaf recipe. Everyone has their own picky style when it comes to that dish. (Or, maybe it’s just me.) I’m definitely headed to your site to check out your recipe!

  2. I love the way you make laugh and salivate at the same time. Love the gravy too!

  3. My family (Left Coast Italians) always called it gravy too!

  4. Up here in New England, gravy is the stuff you make for roasts and sauce is everything else. The bit about the counter help not knowing it’s a pie is funny. I came back from living in the UK for awhile and got used to saying takeaway. When I worked at BK I would ask if they wanted to eat in or have it takeaway. No one understood takeaway! I mean you take it away with you. Of course being stubborn, I stuck to saying takeaway.

  5. Note to self: DON’T eat breakfast while reading The Unorthodox Epicure posts. When I read, “Apparently, the moon hadn’t hit her eye like a big pizza pie” I burst out laughing and sprayed soggy Chex across the table (I could just blame that on the 4 year old though). Great stuff! Love your Thursday essays!

  6. nancy knopp says:

    Finally, someone who knows about red meatloaf gravy. My mother would make her meatloaf in a loaf pan and about a half hour before it was completely cooked she wood drain any grease off of it and pour a concoction of Campbell’s tomato soup mixed with a little water over the whole thing. When it finally came out of the oven, it had red gravy all around it. Always served with mashed potatoes and peas. Your picture looks just like it. Don’t ever under estimate a good can of tomato soup. This stuff is really good and it beats the heck out of ketchup or BBQ sauce spread on top of a good meatloaf.

  7. Mighty fine looking meatloaf especially with that pile of mashed taters. I’m having a laugh that the pizza gal would think someone was ordering a pepperoni ‘pie’ yet not figure out the pizza part of the order. Maybe it was a busy time of day but sometimes your mind just doesn’t always track with what the person is saying. I remember a co-worker calling a bank to ask about depositing a very large check and how long it would take to clear. The bank lady asked him, “well how big is the check?”. He said “it looks about 4″ by 10″ but let me get a ruler.

  8. That looks more like a ‘reduction’ or a ‘jus’ to me.
    Great post Adam.

  9. Holy cow! Okay. Where to begin. Pizza is pizza, NOT pie. NEVER pie. You would confuse the crap out of us Aussies if you walked into a pizza shop here and asked for a pepperoni pie. You would probably get a shortcrust apple pie with some pepperoni placed curiously atop it. Either that, or just some really funny looks.

    Now as for a sandwich, the Earl of Sandwich devised such by wanting to continue playing a card game (or something) whilst eating. He asked the help to slap a slice of meat between two slices of bread so he could hold it in one hand and the cards in the other (or something). He did not request the meat on a breadroll, a bun, or in a torpedo style loaf. A sandwich, thus, is two thinnish slices of sliced bread (hand sliced or from the packet pre-sliced) with a filling therein. A roll is a roll. A “sandwich” from subway is a “sub”. (their terminology, I presume).

    As for gravy – when I was in the South (USA) I grew to adore your “biscuits and gravy” but that gravy was NOTHING like what real gravy is. Real gravy is a deliciously rich, dark brown sauce with no lumps and bumps that one eates with roast meat or veggies. I don’t know what I would call your Southern gravy… maybe… sauce? lol

  10. Love the informative post and love the gravy recipe! My husband has said my meatloaf has been coming out too dry lately. I blame the low-fat content of the ground beef I buy now. Back when we were living paycheck to paycheck I bought the lower-priced higher-fat content ground beef, and always ended up with a lot of grease in the pan that I would make a gravy from with some flour and milk. Your tomato gravy sounds excellent!

    • Your husband (and you) are on the mark. We still make meatloaf with higher-fat meat (70/30 or 80/20). If you don’t want grease all over the pan, bake the meatloaf on several slices of bread. I appreciate your kind words.

  11. Such debates are sheer poppycock! Whatever they’re called, it’s GOOD!! And, for the record I say, pasta, pizza and both sauce and gravy, and I be a Southern girl…Love that meatloaf, peas and mashed taters plate~~now that’s good eats!!

  12. Then there’s the transatlantic thing about cookies vs biscuits, and as an Aussie, what is grits?? :-)

  13. Being from Kansas, you probably know what I call everything. I’m loving this sun-dried tomato gravy. A must try.

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