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Scenes From an Italian Barbecue
The author’s quest for patio furniture triggers memories of a boyhood visit with neighbors—and a reminder of what that backyard meal is really about

By B.A. Nilsson

My wife and I stopped in the store’s outdoor living section and again eyed a lawn furniture set. I wanted something to gussy up the tone of my backyard cookery as our old picnic table grows ever more limp. You want to impress your guests, of course, and comfortable seating is a boon; and I had in mind a Memorial Day picnic of some magnitude.

And lawn furniture is becoming more of a commodity item. I’m not even talking about that good-for-a-season resin nonsense; I mean sturdy-looking stuff in which flashes of real metal appear. That table-with-umbrella-and-four-chairs ensemble has trickled down even into supermarkets now, and each time I saw one I imagined myself, assuming my butt fits into the chair, relaxing in my backyard, a tall glass of iced tea in hand. I fingered the price tag and decided it really was practically affordable. . . .

Then I saw myself in another backyard, decades ago, a glass of oversweetened iced tea in hand, at a picnic table so ratty it makes my current one look like a Martha Stewart catalogue item. And I remembered myself feeling serene and accepted in the midst of the chaos of Joey’s family’s get-together.

If you had asked this family to pose for an outdoor dining photograph, they would have laughed off the suggestion that their event could be so categorized. It was Sunday dinner, that’s all, and in the warm months it tended to spill out into the backyard.

I grew up one street away from this family, whose name was Rogers—a scaled-down version of an Italian moniker I never learned. But family patriarch Phil Rogers had parents who’d been born in Italy, and they—along with a cluster of uncles and cousins and aunts—thronged the house after church on many a pleasant Sunday.

Phil’s son, Joey, was about my age, and other than that we had nothing in common. Still, we pursued a friendship that led more often to his house than to mine, because mine was permanently frosted with a chill of dysfunction, something that hides wonderfully in the picturesque streets of suburban Connecticut.

The town was a developer’s dream, zoning-free and convenient for commuters who saw nothing wrong with tacking four hours of travel time onto the workday. Joey’s dad was different. He ran a floor-cleaning service. It was a big operation that included a retail arm, and afforded him a large, new house back in a time when some of the town’s oldsters were getting over the shock of seeing a well-liked but nevertheless Italian-descended man elected first selectman.

Fifty years earlier, this town was the weekend home of wealthy New Yorkers, who installed immigrant Italian housekeepers and gardeners at their estates. When John Scala, renowned for his cooking, bought the Elms Inn on Main Street in 1951, it was an open scandal, but also a significant mark of the extent to which those immigrants and their families had infiltrated and strengthened the town.

By the time I entered school there, vowel-tipped surnames were unremarkable, and it never occurred to me to ask Joey why his surname wasn’t so characterized. He was mad about cars; I was getting interested in classical music. We found other things to talk about. We swam in a nearby pond. I tried to keep up with him as he maneuvered a basketball around his driveway. And then one day I showed up and the place was crowded with relatives, and I had my first look at an extended family that actually enjoyed the company of one another.

Relatives rarely arrived at my house. Those who did were hated by the unrelated parent. At Joey’s house, not only were there relatives galore, all talking at once, but the fact that I was Joey’s friend seemed to put me on some kind of a footing with them, a phenomenon I found hard to fathom.

“He’s one of the family,” said Phil, slapping me on the back. “Now get outta here. Go get something to eat.”

Something to eat. Phil’s built-in barbecue bore a load of burgers and dogs. Sausage links sizzled on a nearby portable grill. The old picnic table was dressed with a cloth and bore platters of salads, heaping bowls of pasta. There was soda. There was pie. Al Martino crooned from an eight-track machine. “That sonofabitch can sing,” said someone in passing.

Two old men, each with a sandwich in hand, began to yell at one another, the free arm of each spinning like a windmill. They pushed their faces till they were nose to nose, sputtering and screaming about I don’t recall what. I expected the patio to hush in anticipation of the first punch thrown, but nobody else paid any attention. And then the two men laughed and clapped each other on the back.

It was the first time I’d seen emotion expended for the sheer joy of expending emotion. It was liberating. It meant that you actually could let loose of some of the passion that tends to build without being thought a maniac.

“They’re always like that,” said Joey, shaking his head, laughing. “You want to go for a swim?”

The lawn furniture set looked all the more lonely and sterile on the showroom floor, surrounded by other, costlier lawn furniture sets, the umbrellas all tilted in different directions like radar beacons searching for fun.

“Do you still want to get that set?” my wife asked.

I shook my head. “We need to get some sausage,” I said. “And some burgers. And dogs. And we’re going to call some friends. We might have to call some family members. We might even have to call your family.”

She placed a hand to my forehead and hustled me outside.

Full Service


Adirondack Pub & Brewery
33 Canada St., Lake George, 668-0002



Albany Airport Hilton Garden Inn
800 Albany Shaker Road, Colonie, 464-6666



Alibis Bar & Grille
1100 Madison Ave., Albany 489-0606



Arlington House
3532 Route 43, West Sand Lake, 674-1880



Bailey’s
Corner of Putnam and Phila streets, Saratoga Springs, 583-6060



Barcelona
1192 Western Ave., Albany, 438-1144



The Barnsider
480 Sand Creek Road, Colonie, 869-2448



Bayou Café
507 Saratoga Road (Route 50), Glenville, 384-1568



Bayou Café Downtown
79 N. Pearl St., Albany, 426-8550



Beff’s
367 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 475-1111



Beverley’s
47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-2755



BFS Restaurant
1736 Western Ave., Guilderland, 452-6342



Big House
90 N. Pearl St., Albany, 445-2739



Black Cat Ale House
25 White St., Cohoes, 235-3199



The Bleeker Restaurant
State and Dove streets, Albany, 463-9382



Brindisi’s
390 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-6262



The Cambridge Hotel
4 West Main St., Cambridge, 677-5626



The Cat’s Meow
14 Karner Road (Route 155), Guilderland, 456-1895



Chameleon on the Lake
251 County Route 67, 581-3928



Chianti Il Ristorante
208 S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-0025



Christie’s on the Lake
6 Christie Lane, Lake George, 668-2515



Circus Café
392 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1106



Daniel’s at Ogdens
42 Howard St., Albany, 694-5320



Davidson Brothers Brewery & Restaurant
184 Glen St., Glens Falls, 743-9026



Elda’s on Lark
203-207 Lark St., Albany, 449-3532



El Loco Mexican Café
465 Madison Ave., Albany, 436-1855



El Mariachi II
289 Hamilton St., Albany, 432-7580



Everglades BBQ & Seafood
827 Saratoga Road, Wilton, 580-9631



Everyday’s
2012 Central Ave., Colonie, 869-0494



Flying Fish Grille
265 Canada St., Lake George, 668-9224



Four Seasons
33 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 584-4670



Gaffney’s
16 Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 587-7359



The Georgian
384 Canada St., Lake George, 668-5401



Gideon Putnam Hotel
Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs, 584-3000



The Ginger Man Wine Bar & Restaurant
234 Western Ave., Albany, 427-5963



Good Times Lake View Inn Restaurant
175 Lake Road, Ballston Lake, 399-9976



Hattie’s
45 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 584-4790



Holmes & Watson
450 Broadway, Troy, 273-8526



Horseshoe Inn Bar & Grille
1 Gridley St., Saratoga Springs, 587-4909



Hudson Harbor Steak & Seafood
351 Broadway, Albany, 426-5000



The Inn at Saratoga
231 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-1890



Jake’s Round-Up
23 Main St., South Glens Falls, 761-0015



Jillian’s
59 N. Pearl St., Albany, 432-1997



JJ Rafferty’s
847 Loudon Road, Latham, 783-6800



JT Maxies
240 Wolf Road, Albany, 435-1551



Justin’s
301 Lark St., Albany, 436-7008



Krause’s Restaurant & Grove
2 Beach Road, Clifton Park, 371-8033



La Serre
14 Green St., Albany, 463-6056



The Lakeview Inn
Route 43, Averill Park, 674-3363



Lanie’s Café
471 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville, 438-5005



Lillian’s
408 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-7766



Londonderry Café
Stuyvesant Plaza, 489-4288



DeJohn’s
288 Lark St., Albany, 465-5275



Mad River Bar & Grill
86 N. Pearl St., Albany, 433-8338



Maestro’s
371 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 580-0312



Maggie’s
1186 Western Ave., Albany, 437-1701



Magnolia’s on the Park
462 Madison Ave., Albany, 449-2492



Mangia
1562 New Scotland Ave., Slingerlands, 439-5555, Stuyvesant Plaza, 482-8000, Shopper’s World Plaza (off Route 146), Clifton Park, 383-6666



Mansion Hill Inn
115 Philip St., Albany, 489-0466



Martel’s at the New Course Albany
65 O’Neil Road, Albany, 463-1455



McGeary’s
4 Clinton Square, Albany, 463-1455



Mediterranean Garden Grille
1903 N. Scotland Road, Slingerlands, 439-3800



Mexican Connection
41 Nelson Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-4466



Mill Road Restaurant
30 Mill Road, Latham, 783-7244



Moscatello’s Italian Restaurant
99 North Greenbush Road (Route 4), Troy, 283-0809



My Linh
272 Delaware Ave., Albany, 465-8899



Nicole’s Bistro at Quackenbush House
25 Quackenbush Square, Albany, 465-1111



Nicole’s Italia 2
54 Clifton County Road, Clifton Park, 383-4150



Nicole’s Restaurant
556 Delaware Ave., Albany, 436-4952



Orchard Tavern
68 N. Manning Blvd., Albany, 482-5677



Original Saratoga Springs Brew Pub
14 Phila St., Saratoga Springs, 583-3209



Pagliacci’s Ristorante
44 S. Pearl St., Albany, 465-1001



Parting Glass
40-42 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-1916



Patroon House
614 Route 9W, Glenmont, 463-5130



Pearl Restaurant & Lounge
One Steuben Place, Albany, 433-0011



Pennell’s
284 Jefferson St., Saratoga Springs, 582-2423



Pinehaven Restaurant & Catering
1151 Siver Road, Guilderland, 456-7111 ext. 132



Professor Moriarty’s
430 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-5981



Provence
Stuyvesant Plaza, 589-7777



Quintessence
11 New Scotland Ave., Albany, 434-8186



Randy’s at the Dovegate Inn
184 Broad St., Schuylerville, 695-3699



Real Seafood Co.
195 Wolf Road, Colonie, 458-2068



The Riverfront Bar & Grill
Corning Preserve, Albany, 426-4738



Saratoga Lake Bistro
511 Route 9P, Saratoga Lake, 587-8280



Sargo’s at Saratoga National Golf Club
458 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-4653 ext. 601



Scholz’s Hofbrau
Warner’s Lake, East Berne, 872-9912



Sedgwick Inn & Restaurant
17971 Route 22, Berlin, 658-2334



Shepard’s Cove
Lower Montcalm St., Lake George, 668-4978



Siro’s
168 Lincoln Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-9618



Sperry’s
30 ½ Caroline St., Saratoga Springs, 584-9618



Spigalina
80 Main St., Lenox, Mass., (413) 637-4455



Springwater Bistro
139 Union Ave., Saratoga Springs, 584-6440



The Starting Gate
55 Watervliet Ave., Albany, 482-8179



Styx Restaurant
3295 Route 2, Cropseyville, 279-9993



Sutter’s Mill & Mining Co.
1200 Western Ave., Albany, 489-4910



Brown’s Brewing Co.
417 River St., Troy, 273-BEER (2337)



Uncle Milty’s Diner
Route 9, Glenmont, 434-3761



Van’s Vietnamese Restaurant
137 Madison Ave., Albany, 436-1868



The Van Dyck Restaurant & Brewery
237 Union Ave., Schenectady, 381-1111



Victory Café
10 Sheridan Ave., Albany, 463-9113



Washington Tavern
250 Western Ave., Albany, 427-0091



The Waterfront
626 Crescent Ave., Saratoga Springs, 583-2628



The Wheat Fields
440 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 587-0534



The Wine Bar
417 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-8777



Xicohtencatl
50 Stockbridge Road, Great Barrington, Mass., (413) 528-2002



Counter Service


Bountiful Bread
Stuyvesant Plaza, 438-3540



Country Drive-In
1455 Vischer Ferry Road, Clifton Park, 371-3455



The Daily Grind
204 Lark St., Albany, 427-0464



Hungry Spot Café
480 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 584-9060



Jack’s
24 Main Ave., Wynantskill, 283-5110



Jumpin’ Jacks
Collins Park, Scotia, 393-6101



Kurver Kreme
1349 Central Ave., Colonie, 459-4120



Lakeside Cider Mills
336 Schauber Road, Ballston Lake, 399-8359



L-Ken’s
1565 Central Ave., Colonie, 869-6279



Lickety Splits
Route 9, Latham, 785-6178



Mrs. London’s Bakery & Café
464 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 581-1834



On the Farm
271 Troy Schenectady Road, Latham, 785-9930



PJ’s BBQ
Route 9, S. Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 583-7427



Professor Java’s
217 Wolf Road, Colonie, 435-0843



Ross’
1342 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, 439-7084



Starbucks
Stuyvesant Plaza, 489-1064



Tastee Freeze
58 Delaware Ave., Delmar, 439-3912



Uncommon Grounds
402 Broadway, Saratoga Springs, 581-0656



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