Lombardozzi's in Bloomfield was a culmination of every restaurant I've ever worked. The staff was family, the menu was too big, there was a piano in the dining room that never got used, and the website for the restaurant was very, very poor. Lombardozzi's was the first job I had when I moved to Pittsburgh. It was also a job predicated on lies and deceit. Weeks before interviewing, I had previously taken a job at the Rivers Casino, a contract which didn't start until July. I was in Pittsburgh in late May, without a job for 5 weeks and in need of money. I needed to work for a month before the casino gig so I could live, but nobody was going to hire a line cook for just a month. So, I lied. I lied to Tony Lombardozzi and I regret it.
Tony was such a nice, old man. He looked fantastic. He had slicked back gray hair. He was short and had glasses, two very endearing qualities you want in an old man. Sometimes old men look like assholes and then they turn out to be assholes. Not Tony. Tony was a teddy bear. He was sweet to his wife. He spoke English in a way that was deliberate and poised, but also very broken. Every word he ever said was enunciated perfectly except for, "Wha?" which he said often. When he sat me down for an interview, I could tell he was sick of dealing with line cooks. Erratic and emotional, being in charge of any junkie for too long will take its toll. I spoke to Tony knowing full well I would only be working for a month and then jumping ship to a more lucrative opportunity (the aforementioned casino). I neglected to mention I had another job lined up or that I was even thinking about leaving. The interview went well. Then out of nowhere, like he knew I was hiding something, Tony said, "All I expect is honesty." It shook me even though I convinced myself it was just a coincidence. It wasn't like I was sweating and he could tell I was hiding something, right? I look back on that interview and think, "Maybe I was twitching." It's a very ominous thing to say to somebody before you hire them, even for Tony.
Tony was married to Carmella and they both owned the restaurant. They got along well. The kitchen was led by a guy named George who was certainly a heroin addict. George would leave the kitchen if it was slow to play the slot machine near the bar, which I'm guessing paid out. I would get called into work early every so often because George was sick, and I knew what that meant. Also in the kitchen were Anna and Yolanda. Yolanda was in her 60's but would still go dancing frequently. Anna, maybe 10 years younger, was such a ball buster that I fell in love with her. They would speak passionately and intently in Italian. I think they always switched over from English to complain about their jobs or something Tony did, or to talk about George's heroin problem, or how the new guy wasn't cutting it. I started paying attention to their conversations and picking up on Italian phrases. The first phrase I learned translated to, "Sweep the kitchen or I'll throw you down the stairs." They spoke beautifully.
I was learning. I learned how to make pasta. I learned how to make soups and stocks. I learned how to cook Tony's way (he had me do quirky things like finish each order of red sauce with a knob of butter and a hit of Tabasco, which was actually quite good). I had a notebook on me at all times to scribble down recipes or Italian phrases. One day, Tony taught me how to make a killer clam sauce, and while slowly sweating leeks he said, "The French, they think they know – they don't know. Big shots." It's been almost 500 years since Catherine de' Medici supposedly scampered off to France with Italy's most treasured ingredients and recipes, and Italians still hold a grudge. Amazing. I was in love with my job - the alleyway where I parked, the small city neighborhood feel of the buildings and apartments, the customers, the food, the staff. One night Tony and Carmella left early while I was finishing a dinner service and they both smiled and waved at me in a way that felt paternal. It was a job that felt emotionally comfy. It felt like home.
I started to hear stories about what happened to the cook I had been hired to replace. I remember working a slow lunch one day by myself, and Carmella came back with a small framed photo of her son. She walked slowly, always in half-steps, all the way over to the line, held up a picture to me and said, "This was my son. He was a hard worker, just like you." She started to cry. I hugged her and didn't say anything. Half of me felt awful that her son had died of a heart attack so suddenly at the age of 30, the other half felt terrible because I was leaving this woman who had just compared me to her son. I felt like I owed them a longer stay than a month. Two weeks later I followed through with my plan and left. I think about Tony, Carmella, Anna, and Yolanda a lot. Sometimes I joke with my friends that Tony and Carmella's son visits me in the dead of night as a ghost, rattling chains and giving me shit for lying to his family. One Christmas, I went into the restaurant and nobody recognized me. I just drank anonymously, enjoying the pictures on the wall of Tony and Carmella's wedding, watching whatever was on the TV. A more recent time I walked in and Anna was there. She threatened to put me back to work. Often times I think I should.
Go to Lombardozzi's. More specifically, hit their lunch buffet which runs from 11-3. It reminds me of my grandma heating up leftovers the next day. Also, if you have a problem with leftovers, please excuse yourself. I'm for the concept of the lunch buffet, so if you're a fan, here's what Tony serves up:
Meatballs and sausage in red sauce
A rotating pasta. Sometimes penne and marinara, sometimes chicken and linguine, sometimes a vodka sauce – nothing flashy
A protein like chicken marsala or picatta
Stuffed clams (seafood stuffing molded into clam shells)
A kick-ass salad bar. This salad bar is tops for me. Anna marinates beets and they are the best I've ever had. They are acidic and sweet and loaded with herbs. There's pasta salad and a regular salad, too. They serve two salad dressings: Italian and ranch. Sometimes there's a dessert if they had leftovers from a wedding or a party. You really never know. It's cheap, quiet, and quality. It's a dying breed of restaurant, and it's a place I would go to often if I still had the option.