Friday, February 27, 2009

Food People: Meet the Savarino's Sandwich Gang

Posted By on Fri, Feb 27, 2009 at 6:48 AM

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If you've ever wandered into Savarino's Cucina, the understated Italian eatery in Hillsboro Village, and felt like you stumbled into an alternate universe--one colored by nostalgia for cantankerous Brooklyn eateries and authentic Italian cuisine--then the following dialogue will shed some light on the situation.

For the Scene's inaugural People Issue, Jack Silverman, eavesdropped on the loquacious regulars at Corrado Savarino's store--the guys for whom the sandwiches are named. (They knew he was doing it, so it wasn't really eavesdropping.) An abridged version of the conversation appears in this week's Scene, but the full transcript appears after the jump and makes for some great (and slightly PG-13) reading.

Savarino's Cucina may be a family affair--Corrado Savarino's wife Maria, father Pietro, daughter Francesca and son Carmelo all work there--but it's the extended family that makes the Hillsboro Village eatery unique. Savarino's has the vibe of a Brooklyn social club, where a coterie of Nashville Italians and Italian food fanatics while away hours gabbing, laughing, reminiscing and interrupting each other with an intensity that might astound lifelong Southerners.

The most hallowed regulars have been immortalized with sandwiches named for them, sort of a Nashville Italian Hall of Fame. The Scene sat and broke bread with five of the enshrined--retired recording engineer/restaurateur Mike Figlio, Oh Boy records head Al Bunetta, musician/producer Nick Pellegrino, rock legend Felix Cavaliere (of The Rascals) and health care exec Doug Shaugnesso. (Responding to the suspicion that Doug's real name is "Shaugnessy," Corrado assures us that "he comes from the northernmost part of Italy.") Another regular, Greg, joins the party midway through.

We can't promise all the quotes below are correctly attributed--the chatter reaches decibel levels comparable to the tarmac at LaGuardia--but we did our best. Pull up a chair and join us.

Scene: So whose sandwich is the best?

Doug: Mine. The Shaugnesso. Honestly. (To Corrado) Which sells more? The Shaugnesso, right?

Corrado: The No. 1 Sandwich is the Ed. That's the one that sells the most.

Doug: It is not! Why do you lie? Why?

Francesca (Corrado's daughter): The biggest seller is the Nick.

Al: The Al Bunetta.

Doug: The Nick sells more than anybody?

Francesca: Sorry.

Doug: How in the hell is Pellegrino selling more?

Nick: I sell more than anybody.

Doug: Michael, we're bigger than U.S. Steel!

(The Godfather II reference turns the topic toward an upcoming Belcourt screening of the entire trilogy.)

Al: You know what Paramount paid for Godfather?

Doug: Pennies, wasn't it?

Al: A million dollars. Yeah, pennies. Lots and lots of pennies.

Nick: You know, Joe Pagetta will be very upset if there are any wiseguy references in this article.

Scene: We're going to print that he wasn't available because he's in the witness protection program.

Corrado: Remember Richelieu in Brooklyn? Did you ever go there?

Nick: Where?

Corrado: Richelieu. On 86th and 20th, right next door to the Benson Theater.

Nick: It was a restaurant?

Corrado: A Jewish deli.

Nick: I remember. I didn't know that was the name of it.

Corrado: Yeah, it's, like, some French guy. I dunno.

Doug: Richelieu? As in Cardinal Richelieu?

Nick: As in, like, a very important French guy?

Corrado: Yeah! A French guy!

Doug: I thought he was saying "Richard Lewis."

Nick: I did too!

Doug: Goddamn, you need a translator in here anymore.

(Corrado starts to tell a bad joke.)

Al: Don't tell the joke.

Doug: Yeah, you told me this joke three times. Three fuckin' times.

Nick: Corrado, did you hear about the husband and wife...

Corrado: Wait! Let me finish this one!...

(After a round of jokes that can't be printed here, the topic turns to the origins of the various sandwiches.)

Nick: I made a suggestion, and he kind of took it from there.

Doug: He just got in early enough in the game that he got one of the two best sandwiches.

Nick: When I was a kid we used to eat this dish, whole pieces of chicken, peppers and sausage broken up in it.. It was called Scah-pa-diel. So he kind of did that and threw red wine on it.

Nick: (to Corrado) How do you you spell Scah-pa-diel? Scarpiello, right?

Corrado: Roughly, it's going to be S-C-A-...

Nick:..R-P-I-E-L-L-O.

Corrado: R-P-I...L-L...

Greg: Wouldn't it be S-C-I-A?

Corrado: I-E-L-L-O.

Nick: I'll right it down for you. Gotta pen?

Doug: This is why Italians have never been successful in this world.

Greg: This is why I thank God I have Italian-Jewish ancestry.

Corrado: It's not easy writing in Sicilian, you know what I mean?

Nick: (showing a pad of paper with "chicken scarpiello" on it) There you go, Scah-pi-el.

Corrado: Yeah, there you go. It's close enough.

Nick: It's close enough.

Scene: Why aren't there any women with sandwich names?

Corrado: We're not going to have no ladies. We'll have a lot of problems.

Doug: A co-worker of mine says, "How come I don't get a sandwich named for me?" She eats in here all the time. My fiancé too. They're like, "How come no women?" So one night, we sat down here with some folks, and start breaking his balls about, "Why are there no women on the board?" He goes, "You see, you put a woman up there, and it's like, 'Yeah, I want to eat a Lisa, I want to eat a Denise. [Names changed to protect the innocent.] People would get insulted."

Corrado: It'll start a fight or something. I'm doing it out of respect.

Scene: Felix, is it a greater honor being a legendary rock star or having a sandwich named after you at Savarino's?

Felix: That's a good question! (laughs) The rock star thing kind of dwindles, but the sandwich is forever.

(Al Bunetta starts talking to Felix about the Palace Theater)

Al: You know what? I might invite you to the Palace Theater. We'll do a little thing. 140 seats. Oldest theater in Tennessee. Up in Gallatin on the square. Beautiful, remodeled.

Felix. Yeah man, of course.

Al: You know, do a little thing, a little show. We'll pay you.

Felix: Ah, just let me come and do it.

Nick: He won't pay you. He'll get someone else to pay you.

(Corrado puts out a tray of cannoli, which get passed around a couple of tables.)

Al: Hey, what happened? I didn't get one! What the fuck?

Dave: Oh Shit. All hell's gonna break loose now. Al didn't get a cannoli.

Al: (reminiscing about his mother) She would travel with every People magazine, Esquire, Enquirer. Remember when they wrote an article about how Marie was coping when she was going through a little drug thing, pills? So Donny Osmond is in my brother's house, walking in. My mother's sitting there reading her People magazine. All her news came from People. My brother says, "Mom"--and we loved our Ma--"Mom, I'd like you to meet my friend Donny Osmond." She goes, "Donny, how's Marie coping?"

(The subject of naming a sandwich for a certain Jewish customer comes up.)

Doug: I think Silverman needs to have a sandwich. It oughta be pancetta, prosciutto, a little Italian sausage...

Nick: Whitefish and tongue. Put on the corner of the menu. Out of respect.

Doug: Frank Dileo is the best sandwich on the menu. It's the most authentic sandwich on the board.

Corrado: This is no bullshit. The best selling one is the Ed. But the Nick and the Frank Dileo, they have, like, a cult following.

Doug: I always get the Frank. I think I've had my sandwich...two or three times.

Corrado: The broccoli rabe is the best.

Al starts to wax poetic about the magic of Savarino's.

Al: You know how you feel when you come in here. It's not about the food only. It's about what dysfunctional moment you're going to have. I'll tell ya, when you get to a certain point in life, you don't waste your time on anything that ain't worth it. You talk about your parents...you just sit here and chill out.

Nick: And there's no Red Lobster in the neighborhood.

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