Things Are Different When You Go Back

Lots of my supper club roots go back to my upbringing in a very Italian community in NY. It was a great place to grow up. It was a great place to eat. But things change.

Many of the scenes of my youth evolved around an Italian restaurant and bar Casserella’s. Susan and I went there last night and it is now an upscale Italian restaurant called Lago’s.

It was a bit of a tell when the waiter introduced himself as Juan. My dad used to say that every waiter in a French restaurant in New York was really Italian. Today everyone working in an Italian restaurant in New York is Hispanic. This is actually a good thing it is just different.

Juan was great. He was well schooled on the menu. He even spoke New York Italian very well. On one my many trips to Italy I realized that Italian of my youth (or as Cousin Vinny would say: “my yutes”) was very different than real Italian. With New York Italian, when you were cool, you cut off the vowels. Prosciutto becomes prosciut. Mozzarella becomes mozarell. Juan’s Italian was very cool and it was music to my ears.

I explained that I had grown up in there. He told me he had a guy about 90 years old come in and tell him that beers used to cost 10 cents. I explained that I wasn’t nearly that old. In my day the beers cost 33 cents each. You got 3 beers for a dollar and the bartender Eddy would give you a fourth for free. So at a memory of a 25 cent beer, I am really old.

The food at Lago’s was actually pretty good. While memories usually make the food of your youth seem better, to be honest the food at Cassarella’s was inconsistent at best. My buddy John Nangle was once working in the kitchen making salads when Cassarella’s got reviewed by the local newspaper the Reporter Dispatch (affectionately referred to as the “Distorted Repatch”). The reviewer cited John’s work that night by stating he had been served a very “Undistinguished Salad”. John explained: “What should you expect, no-one had ever told me that there was a difference between cucumber and zucchini”.

Speaking of inconsistent, growing up we knew who the cook was each night. If Gracie was cooking you were in for a treat. If another cook was working we just drank beer. Actually we drank beer every night, we just ate better when Gracie was cooking. I have been trying to replicate Gracie’s veal chop Milanese for years. No amount of beer could dull that memory.

You can expect to see a recipe for Gracie’s Veal Chop Milanese on an upcoming supper club menu. Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but memories are usually that things tasted better. Well maybe…

If you enjoy this blog and similar other stories/supper club lessons subscribe to get future blogs at and be on the look out for my book Impromptu Friday Nights a Guide to Supper Clubs. Morgan James Publishing published the E-Version on September 5, 2017 and the hard copy coming out January 30, 2018.

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