ABOVE: The president serves up homemade wine at the Minturnese Social Club’s annual game dinner.
Fluorescent panel lights cast a yellow pallor on the linoleum-tiled dining room at the Minturnese Social Club. It’s packed. All the folding tables and chairs are marked off by families or groups of friends. Frank Masone’s table here. Tony Cardillo’s table there. And in the center of the room, the Rizzi’s table is scattered with wine bottles as the patriarch, Tony, rushes about doling out plates of pasta and slaps on the back in equal measure.
“What’re you drinking?” somebody asks. From nowhere, a jug of homemade Sangiovese is produced and my glass is filled but before I can down it, somebody else insists I try their 2008 vintage.
This is how the monthly men’s dinner at the Minturnese club begins.
But this month is different, it’s the highly-anticipated annual game dinner and retired butcher John Zinicola bagged a deer. The rest – rabbit, quail, pheasant and sausage – was store-bought though still quite good.*
Everybody here is from a little Italian town in Lazio called Minturno and the club really is just a big family. There are only about ten surnames in the entire room and keeping track of which Tony is which Giovanni’s second cousin is a hopeless endeavor. They are stone masons, plumbers, barbers and electricians. They are doctors, lawyers, bankers and politicians. But above all else, they are Minturnese.
In the kitchen, Julio Pompa, Tony Cardillo, Tony Rizzi and Zinicola churn out a four-course meal. They start with a selection of antipasto and finish with a plate laden heavily with three or four different types of game and a salad that nobody pays much attention to.
I struggle clumsily for a time with a knife and fork, trying to maintain a modicum of decency but the guys at my table pick up on this. “Use your hands, it’s better that way,” somebody says. Thus released from the constraints of polite society, I dig in. Ripping ribcage from hind-quarter, I scour the rabbit carcass for all it’s worth.
With the rabbit out of the way, one of the Giovannis (or maybe a Pasquale) walks over with a plastic bowl containing three quail halves. “You like these, right?” Certainly I do, but let’s be realistic. I arrived nearly an hour late and consequently received all four courses at once. I have – quite literally – a lot on my plate.
The prospect of finishing the meal is somewhat daunting and as espresso is being sent down from the bar (accompanied by the requisite Styrofoam cup of sambuca), I’m still working on the linguine with pheasant sauce.
As the crowd thins out – or rather, heads up to the bar – we manage to wrangle a handful of guys to roll some bocce. In the waning days of fall, this may be the last game I play this year and the threat of a few bocce-barren months is not lost on John Mallozzi, ”we need to put a cover over this so we can play in the winter,” he says with hopeless optimism.
Now that’s what I’m talking about. Tuzza la rosa!
*In all fairness, I believe a couple of Mallozzis were involved in the deer hunt, but amid all the activity at the dinner, I lost track of to whom the credit is due.