Tonight we are going out to dinner with one of our daughters and her husband. We’re going to a restaurant just one town up the highway called La Piazza. It is an Italian restaurant run by the third generation of a family to run Italian restaurants in our area.
When I was growing up, my dad had a group of friends who went once every other month of so to one of the Italian restaurants in our city. There were about five or six at that time, all family run, no Olive Gardens in those days. There was Vito’s, Anticoli’s, Dominic’s, Annarino’s and probably a few more that I can’t remember. He always wore his “spaghetti shirt”, a brightly patterned sport shirt with lots of red to hide the inevitable splashes of sauce. When my sister and I were old enough to act civilized in “grown-up” restaurants, we were taken to Anticoli’s as a special treat. That was the closest of these spaghetti houses to our home.
Anticoli’s was a rather formal place, with three rooms; the first was the main dining room, with booths around the sides, and tables in the middle; the second, a loungewith eight to ten booths and a bar with seating for another 10 people; the last was a room for larger groups or private parties. The food was the typical Italian fare – spaghetti, ravioli, lasagne, chicken marsala and parmesan, etc., along with steaks and lamb chops for those who didn’t want the Italian side of the menu.
After I married, my husband and I continued to be “regulars’ at Anticoli’s, always asking for a booth in the bar. We often entertained family and friend with meals there. A good friend Elaine from California always made a point to visit Anticoli’s whenever she was in town. She liked the salad dressing so much (good and garlicky – the kind that makes one stink for a day or two, with real garlic, not garlic powder) that she would buy jars of it home to take home with her on the plane. The management was happy to indulge her at $3.00 per 5oz. jar. She also was a great fan of their lamb chops.
My children’s first experiences with “grown-up” restaurants was at Anticoli’s and Vito’s Venice Inn. It was there that they asked the strolling musicians, with a violin and accordion, to play “Lady of Spain”. The accordion player must have hated to play that cliched number but wouldn’t refuse the two darling girls who asked him to play it.
As time went on, the neighborhood changed, robberies were a threat in the parking lot. A guard were hired to provide security, but people quit being “regulars” and eventually, the place closed. By then, one of the sons and his son and daughter had opened a “satellite” family restaurant, La Piazza, on the main square in a neighboring town. The menu was similar and happened to be closer to where we lived at that time. The ambiance while attractive, was not the same, and we never became more than occasional patrons. After several years, another spin-off, Caffe Anticoli, opened in a new location, a few miles from the original. It has always been a disappointment to us, the few times we’ve been there. Maybe our expectations were too high, maybe the spell is broken. We no longer go there.
Vito’s Venice Inn closed long ago, as did Annarino’s. Dominic’s is still around, but too far for us to go on most occasions. Most of the remaining Italian restaurants are chains and they hold no appeal for us.
So, tonight, we go to La Piazza, and give a toast to independent restaurateurs everywhere with our glasses of vino rosso, over our plates of spaghetti, lasagne, or ravioli, and tomorrow we will stink like crazy and be glad of it.