Expectant moms hope legendary metro Atlanta eggplant dish will deliver

The eggplant parmigiana at Scalini’s Italian Restaurant is believed by many to help pregnant women go into labor. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

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The eggplant parmigiana at Scalini’s Italian Restaurant is believed by many to help pregnant women go into labor. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

I really wanted to have an Eggplant Baby.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, it refers to the 30-plus-year tradition of pregnant metro Atlanta women who are near their due date heading to Scalini's Italian Restaurant in Smyrna, where the eggplant parmigiana is supposed to induce labor magically.

“Have you tried the eggplant thing yet?” my obstetrician asked me last week, as I was heading into my 39th week of pregnancy and starting to feel a bit panicky that I might never give birth. “People say it works,” he said with a shrug.

When you’ve been growing a human inside of you for nine months, you’re willing to try anything. And, so, I trekked to Smyrna to try to pop out an Eggplant Baby.

The restaurant already was packed at 6 p.m. on a Saturday, with clusters of birthday celebrations and family dinners already in full swing. But, a closer look at the evening’s clientele showed something unusual — heavily pregnant women, lots of them, bellies swollen, forks primed to sink into baked eggplant. I made eye contact with one of them as I was shown to my table. We gave each other knowing smiles. I was far from alone in attempting to launch Operation Get Baby Out.

The waitress went around our table taking orders.

“I bet I know what you want to order,” she said when she got to me.

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Scalini’s features a wall of pictures showing what are known as Eggplant Babies. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Scalini’s features a wall of pictures showing what are known as Eggplant Babies. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

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Scalini’s features a wall of pictures showing what are known as Eggplant Babies. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

To get myself in the baby-birthing zone, I started with the complimentary garden salad and pillowy dinner rolls swimming in pools of butter and dotted with pieces of garlic. I was an Olympic runner, warming up before the main event. I was ready.

Next up: the dish of the hour — thick slices of breaded eggplant in a small casserole dish, covered in melted cheese, with a golden-brown crust, and slathered in chunky marinara sauce that had a little kick to it.

And, let’s not forget the accompanying side of spaghetti, because as any authentic old-school Italian restaurant knows, you never can have too many carbs.

Sufficiently stuffed, I waddled with my group toward the front of the restaurant, where hangs a sign stating the rules of joining the Second Generation club (you must deliver within 48 hours of eating Scalini’s eggplant parm to get a free dinner and a Scalini’s T-shirt).

But, even more inspiring than the promise of a free meal was the chance for Future Baby to get a place of honor on the Eggplant Baby photo wall, along with many of the Eggplant Babies born over the past few decades.

Scalini’s owner John Bogino says he’s lost track of exactly how many times the restaurant’s famous dish has been credited with helping babies make their debuts into the world, but he guesses it’s “well above 1,000.”

He notes there are women who have had four or five Eggplant Babies, and a few who have gone into labor right after leaving the restaurant. He recalls one woman having to be rushed to the hospital after going into labor during a live “Good Morning America” segment on the dish.

So, what’s the magic ingredient that sends some lucky women into immediate contractions?

“We’ve never been able to narrow it down,” he said. “It’s something about the combination of the eggplant and the spices we use. All I know is that we’ll never change the recipe — we don’t want to take out anything that might be responsible.”

Eating eggplant is one of many old wives’ tales and labor-inducing tips that some people swear by, including downing pineapple, spicy food and dates, and getting acupressure or acupuncture.

Bonita Dozier, a doctor of obstetrics and gynecology at Peachtree Women’s Specialists in Atlanta, said that, while there might be lots of anecdotal evidence pointing to the success of Scalini’s eggplant parm, she doesn’t know of any scientific studies that support its labor-inducing properties.

“If nothing else, it’s a fun field trip,” she said.

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The eggplant parmigiana at Scalini’s Italian Restaurant is believed by many to help pregnant women go into labor. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

The eggplant parmigiana at Scalini’s Italian Restaurant is believed by many to help pregnant women go into labor. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Combined ShapeCaption
The eggplant parmigiana at Scalini’s Italian Restaurant is believed by many to help pregnant women go into labor. CONTRIBUTED BY HENRI HOLLIS

Atlanta resident Ann Roberts is a believer, of sorts, having given birth to her own Eggplant Baby five years ago after visiting Scalini’s the day before her due date and going into labor about four hours later (though it should be noted that she dined at Scalini’s during the same time frame with her first baby and didn’t go into labor until a few days later).

While she’s not sure whether the eggplant did the trick, she said it was a good excuse to have a nice meal with her family before the baby came, and it didn’t hurt that there was a free dinner and cute onesie on the other side. If she decided to have more kids, she said, she’d go back and give it another shot.

Unfortunately, the eggplant didn’t have the same effect on me.

“Are you feeling anything yet?” my friend texted me the day after our Scalini’s excursion.

“Nothing I haven’t already been feeling for the past couple of weeks,” I wrote back. “I think we went too early.”

It reminded me of something Bogino noted when we talked: “Most women, when they get near their due date, they’re anxious to have their baby. When you really want to have your baby, when you get to feeling that way, that’s a good time to come in.”

Maybe I wasn’t desperate enough then, but now, one day from my due date, I truly feel like I’d eat eggplant until I was near exploding if it meant this kid’s prompt arrival.

They shared the recipe; I’m making it tonight. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I have a good feeling this time around.

And, if it doesn’t work again? At least, I’ll have had a tasty time trying.

Recipe: Scalini’s Eggplant Parmigiana
  • 3 medium eggplants
  • Salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 4 cups fine Italian-style (not plain) breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil, for sauteing
  • 8 cups Scalini’s marinara sauce (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups ricotta
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • ½ pound shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Wash the eggplants, then slice them into ¼-inch thick slices. (You may choose to peel the eggplant before you slice it; however, you may want to leave the skin on, since it contains a lot of vitamins.)
  • Place the eggplant slices on a layer of paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt, then cover with another layer of paper towels and hold it down with something heavy. This will drain the excess moisture. Let them sit for about an hour.
  • Working with one slice of eggplant at a time, dust with flour, then dip in beaten eggs, then coat well with breadcrumbs.
  • To a large saute pan, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Warm the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, saute the eggplant slices on both sides until golden brown.
  • In a baking dish, alternate layers of marinara sauce, eggplant slices, ricotta, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, until you fill the baking dish about an 1/8 inch from the top. Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 750 calories (percent of calories from fat, 39), 36 grams protein, 79 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams fiber, 33 grams fat (15 grams saturated), 227 milligrams cholesterol, 2,347 milligrams sodium.
Recipe: Scalini’s Marinara Sauce
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 8 cups chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/8 cup fresh chopped sweet basil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Pinch dried thyme
  • Pinch dried rosemary
  • In a large pot, lightly saute the onions in olive oil for a few minutes. Add garlic and saute another minute.
  • Add tomatoes and bring the sauce to a boil, then decrease heat to low. Add parsley, basil, oregano, red pepper, salt, pepper, thyme and rosemary. Stir, cover and let simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. Makes 8 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1/2 cup serving: 50 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 2 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 2 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 142 milligrams sodium.

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