San Francisco boasts a lively Italian legacy. The city’s Italian Heritage Parade is the America’s oldest Italian-American celebration. Some of San Francisco’s most venerable ristorantes bear Italian names. Stroll along Columbus Avenue in North Beach and you’ll see the red, white, and green stripes of the Italian flag in bright evidence, from store signs to caffè awnings.
That always reminds me of the Italian-Americans I knew in Los Angeles.
“Good evening, Pah-lehhhr-mo,” Tony practically sang into the telephone and quickly took orders in between adding new walk-ins to the seating list. The Los Feliz restaurant was tiny, and on weekends, people waiting for tables and takeout were wall to wall, out the door, and bunched on the sidewalk. If I was getting my pizza to go, I’d use the time to select a dark red in the liquor store across the street. If I was with friends, we’d hang in to stuff ourselves in the dining room, where a gleaming gargantuan copper and brass espresso machine presided over the Formica kitchen-style tables.
Out on the westside, elderly Frank was master of his own kitchen. His herbs and vegetables came from his garden, the cherries for his pie came from his tree, and his ravioli made me want to propose marriage or adoption. His discussion of wine was punctuated with Italian terms. He served the wine not in prissy goblets but in plain, small tumblers. Midwestern-born to an Italian immigrant family that returned to the old country when he was little, he was intended to be his family’s “gift to the church.” However, he eventually returned to America and started a family and a business instead. Eating his cookbook-picture lattice-crust pie, I was extremely grateful.
Frank’s kids are as American as his pie; Palermo was in the backyard of that most American of institutions, Hollywood; and North Beach is part of everyone’s favorite American city. The tricolor is assimilated into the unicoast.