I had a friend drop me off because I assumed that parking would be a nightmare. I got there over an hour before Carnevale was set to begin. Traffic was picking up but I easily found a seat in the main ‘piazza’, actually just where two streets intersect and there is a little seating on one corner. I sat down and excitedly waited for the night to begin. Set to start at 5:00 pm, I watched the street, combing for performers and beautiful costumes with masks of every shape and color adorned with feathers, glitter and rhinestones. Unfortunately what I ended up with was disapointment; no parade, no masquerade balls, no nothing. Here, Carnevale is two blocks of (in my opinion) a lame street fair. The vendors weren’t even selling arts and crafts, but clothing, whisks, plants and cars. There was a lovely band playing which was adding a little warmth to this cold night air, but I was crushed. I even heard others walking beside me on the sidewalk saying, “Is this it?” Evidently, it was.
Leaving the intersection of Date and India streets, I headed up India to find somewhere to eat and hopefully salvage my night with a great meal. I wanted to find somewhere to sit for a while, enjoy some wine and write. Obviously being in Little Italy I didn’t have any trouble finding Italian food, which was just fine with me. I strolled along and pondered over numerous menus filled with pretentious sounding names and prices to match. Not for me. I eventually ended up walking past a restaurant that had a huge line out front. Finding the end of the line I asked the ladies if they’d eaten here before. They said no, but we agreed that it must have a long line for some reason. I asked the woman ahead of them. She told us that she’d eaten there many times and that they had “good food, huge portions and reasonable prices”. I got in line. A few moments later a woman got in line behind me. I struck up a conversation by asking if she’d ever been here before. She replied, “only for the last forty years”. Through my time with her waiting in line I learned that she started coming here in college because they didn’t “card” the kids back then, and now they come here for every major family event and tonight was no exception. I was hooked. How much more Italian can you get? A restaurant that’s been here for sixty years and a family that’s been coming here for nearly that long. As more of her family arrived I learned about their children and grandchildren complete with pictures, a bad joke from the husband and an invite to join them for dinner provided I paid. Since there was twelve of them, I declined.
I quickly reached the hostess desk, distracted by the delightful conversation, and was seated at a table for two in one of the many alcoves of the large restaurant. I was jovially greeted by a woman that was over 50, perhaps over 60 but with the energy, friendliness and sheer joy of a person just venturing out on their own in life with all the possibilities ahead of them.
I didn’t know what to order so she helped me. I went with a combination plate of lasagna and meat ravioli covered in cheese and baked. She told me it was wonderful and not on the menu and I completely trusted her, like a grandmother I’ve known my whole life. She did not steer me wrong. I also got a salad, garlic bread and a carafe of house chianti, which did not come with the pretentious stemmed glass. Just a small glass, just the same way they drink it in Italy. Everything was delicious, hot, filling and actually seemed as though it was made in a real Italian kitchen.
When you eat alone the staff feels sometimes compelled to chat with you. Maybe they feel the need to fill up your evening with chatter that isn’t filled by dinner companions, keep you from feeling lonely or perhaps to have someone to talk to themselves. Either way, it’s fine with me because you meet the most interesting and wonderful people, like my server. Irene, I learned, has been here at Fillippis for over 35 years and I’m certain that some of the restaurants success can be attributed directly to her. A genuine smile, an infectious friendly personality and a kindness that she couldn’t have suppressed if she tried. While I sat alone, she and I chatted a little. She continued to help others, many of which waited in line longer just to sit in her section. She wore big hoop earrings, her hair was swept up and although she walked with the gait of a person touched by age and time, she didn’t reveal it in the way she spoke to you. She had an expressive and to-the-point way of speaking, I liked her immediately. I’m sure everyone does. She made everyone smile and feel a glow of happiness. No wonder people waited to sit in here, this little corner of paradise.
I couldn’t possibly eat all the food I was served and that’s okay. I was perfectly happy just to enjoy the lovely chianti and the conversation. I needed no dessert and had no room for it anyway, as I was filled with the sweetness of human kindness.
I too will come back to Fillippis and when I’m in line I’ll happily tell ‘newbies’ the same thing told to me, with one caveat. Good food, huge portions and reasonable prices, but be sure to sit in Irene’s section. That alone will be worth the wait.
I look forward to bringing my Prince Charming husband here and introducing him to my new friend.