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“I think we were the pioneers of happy hour around here,” says Anthony Zizzo. “You should have come.”

Dang it. He’s right. From 3-6 they had $5 wine and $5 appetizers, in this classy restaurant (at the corner of India and Date, in Little Italy) I’ve passed a thousand times. Always thought it was beyond my wallet. But wow. Caponata, eggplant — very Sicilian — with capers, celery, peppers, crostini. Calamari, polenta…sigh. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.

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I’ve caught up with Anthony just after he has sawn off the last patio rail stanchion on the sidewalk. Because Vincenzo’s, the restaurant he and his family have run for the past dozen years, has closed.

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“Dad, Vincenzo, passed away two years ago,” he said. “You should have seen his funeral. The procession came right up India. He was a consiglieri, like a knight, in Sicily. The Italian consul, everybody came. Now our mom is not well, and when this group from Rome made us an offer, it was too good to turn down.”

The Romans have an application to open “Pizza Artigiana.”

“They’re bringing a special oven, and recipes like, New York-style, I think,” says Anthony.

All the while we’re talking people are coming up. “So sorry you’re going.” “We got engaged here.” “I’ll always remember your paella.”

A lady named Jessica just gives Anthony a hug. “I loved coming here. I live two blocks away. Your penne broccoli e pollo [a smoked chicken breast in a white cream sauce] was what we always came for. We already miss you.”

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Anthony with Jessica

“Probably our Linguini Nettuno was our most famous dish,” says Anthony. “Clams, mussels, tiger shrimp, calamari and chopped fish. Very Sicilian. In a tomato and seafood brodo.”

He’s going to take time off, and think the next chapter of his life. Because hey, he’s at the ripe old age of 26. Has been cooking since age 14. When his dad died, he had to become chef and manager. “It’s been work, all right,” he says. “But I loved it.”

Behind him, a message in the window says “There are things that we never want to let go of, people we never want to leave behind. But keep in mind that letting go isn’t the end of the world, it’s the beginning of a new life.”

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