Last Sunday I headed to Anthony’s Restaurant and Lounge to shoot a photograph for an upcoming recipe that will be posted on www.kcoriginals.com beginning in April 2012. Anthony Spino, a tall gregarious guy with shaggy hair, full beard, and contagious smile, greeted me when I entered the restaurant located at 701 Grand. As the manager, he showed me around the restaurant full of people celebrating the Feast of Saint Joseph.
Generations of Italian-Americans and other people from the community gathered for this annual feast traditionally held on or around March 19. This local event was a fundraiser for Children’s Mercy Hospital and St. Jude’s. The celebration recognizes the patron saint that heard the prayers of villagers and brought rain to an area of Sicily suffering famine during a long drought in the Middle Ages.
Anthony explains that the saint helped the poor and needy and this feast was to honor him. Traditional food served for the feast includes bread, fava beans, seafood (during Lent), fig cookies and other pastries. Many families from the community brought the trays of homemade pastries that covered tables inside the restaurant. The kitchen at Anthony’s was busy dishing out plates of pasta.
I photographed a frosia, a Sicilian omelet made with vegetables and thickened with bread crumbs, for my KC Originals assignment. Afterward, Anthony invited me to stay, eat, and visit. Since the restaurant was packed, we sat outside on a patio where his father Anthony “Butch” Spino, Jr., uncle, and other older men passed the time with a smoke and a beer as they told stories of yesteryear’s working class laborers.
Food has always been about more than filling my belly, pleasing my senses, and documenting every detail. I’ve always connected food to family, community, local economy, the people that grow and prepare food, social connections, traditions, customs, and geography. Rarely do I have the opportunity to write about these interconnected subjects at length in my freelance writing. This meal was a simple but powerful reminder of these associations.
Eating a plate of spaghetti with red sauce, sardines, and cauliflower was a new taste experience for me. I listened to the stories, chiding, and laughter. I watched friends, neighbors, and children walk up to greet others, exchange kisses on the cheek, and pay respect. I smiled as Anthony kidded with a young boy near our table. I remembered the Perniciaro family that once lived on my street in my mom’s neighborhood when I was growing up. Sons Joe and little Anthony Perniciaro were cherub-cheeked boys like this kid.
Butch Spino told me that the Feast of St. Joseph used to be celebrated in homes years ago and families would visit each other. This relaxed moment on a Sunday afternoon reminded me that, like a church, a restaurant serves as a gathering place where people can interrupt their busy lives, emerge from the insular cocoon of the home, and join together as a community. It was a pleasure to watch old friends and family reconnect.
This gathering was authentic Slow Food without the feel of belonging to a club. Food, tradition observed, people making the effort to connect, and giving back to the community are potent ingredients for savoring a rich life.
Above: (From left) father Anthony “Butch” Spino, Jr., name unknown, Anthony Spino, mother Theresa Spino, brother Vito Spino, name unknown.