By Tim Hayes
Everybody needs one. That place you find that fits your style. That serves up great food. That makes you feel at home every time you walk in the place.
We found ours about a year after we moved back to our hometown of Pittsburgh, more than 25 years ago. This little hole in the wall, just about eight minutes from our house. After all this time, we know the family who runs it as well as we know our own neighbors. This comes as no surprise, since we probably spend more time with these folksy restaurateurs during the cold months than we do with the neighbors.
In a converted two-story townhouse, the husband and wife along with their two sons and their families have been serving up the best pasta, fish, steak, pizza, soup, salad, you name it, year after year. Nothing fancy, but unbelievably delicious – and with a consistent quality that has never wavered. Amazing.
When we started patronizing the restaurant, our two daughters were babies. Our son hadn’t even entered the picture yet. Now the girls are through with college and off on their own, and our son’s college career is mere weeks from wrapping up. And our friends who have been whomping up great meals for us through it all have watched our kids grow and enjoyed the process right along with us.
It’s so comforting to have a go-to place like this. When we want to celebrate, we go there. When we want to crash on a Friday night after a tough week, just to relax, have a drink, enjoy some great pasta, and chat for a minute with people who sincerely are happy you’re there, that’s where we go. We have reserved the restaurant for private events, including First Communion parties. We have asked them to cater graduation parties at our house.
Our little neighborhood hole in the wall has been at the center of many of the milestones of our family’s life. What a blessing.
In the film “Moonstruck,” the family of the character played by Cher frequents its own little neighborhood hole in the wall, the Gran Torino. “Bobo,” the head waiter, knows them by name and can anticipate their preferences and orders. In our favorite haunt, the people there can do the same.
The patriarch of the family, freed from the heavy cooking duties in the kitchen, now serves as the roving goodwill ambassador in the bar, the downstairs dining area, and the upstairs dining room. Stopping by to say hello, he’ll ask where the kids are these days, maybe offer some sage wisdom, then totter off to make some other patrons feel welcome. His wife does much of the same, while keeping a sharp eye on what’s going on the kitchen and among the wait staff.
The sons, whose roles have risen to cooking the meals and running the place day-to-day, know us well, too. Even when I call to place an order for take-out, before they ask for the name, they’ll say, “Is this you, Mr. Hayes?” It probably sounds corny as hell, but to be so familiar and to be recognized with such sincere gratitude and grace – well, it’s one of life’s loveliest little victories.
During one tableside conversation not long ago, as one of the sons asked about our kids, I mentioned that we had been coming here ever since our oldest was about two years old. Twenty-five years ago, that would make it. His eyes widened, and he told us that his parents opened their doors 25-and-a-half years ago. In other words, our patronage correlated precisely with the history of the restaurant itself.
No wonder we all felt such a kinship and connection – we raised a family as they built a successful business. And now here we all find ourselves again, us making that eight-minute trip over and over to a place we know and love and savor, and them keeping the lights on, the water boiling, the zucchini crispy and hot, and the friendship and smiles abundant and free for the taking.
A little neighborhood hole in the wall. Everybody needs one. And we sure have treasured ours. Who’s hungry?
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes