Mom knew a thing or two about Italian cooking.
He sang the praises of Mom’s meatball sandwich.
Like all Italian mothers, my mom, Mae DiMarco, made the best spaghetti sauce in the world. But unlike the other moms, her sauce went public in front of Hollywood stars. My dad had received two valuable food-stand franchises for the
Los Angeles County Fair when it reopened in 1948. Prior to that, the location had served as a military camp and prisoner of war center during and after World War II.
Dad decided to serve traditional hamburgers and hot dogs in one of the stands. In the other, he took a chance by serving lesser-known items—Italian sandwiches. One of them was a meatball sandwich dipped in pasta sauce. And whose meatballs and sauce would be better to serve than my mother’s?
The sandwiches consisted of three meatballs smothered in Mom’s delicious sauce and served on a tasty French roll. They were a big hit at the fair, the second-largest in the country. But in 1950, the sandwiches underwent a stiff taste test.
Ezio Pinza, the famous Metropolitan Opera basso, had undertaken the male lead in South Pacific when it opened on Broadway in 1949. The show, co-starring Mary Martin, became a megahit and introduced such songs as “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Bali Ha’i.” After winning a Tony Award at 57, Pinza became a household name.
While in Hollywood to fulfill a movie contract with MGM, Pinza visited the fair. When my mother spotted him eyeing our sign with skepticism, she quickly made him a meatball sandwich free of charge. He took it and disappeared.
A short while later, he returned, this time with an entourage of almost a dozen people. My mom asked,
“Ti • piaciuto?” (Did you like it?)
A broad smile came over Pinza’s face as he replied, “Deliziosa!”
He ordered a dozen sandwiches on the spot and later came back for more. It was a fine endorsement but not a surprise for those of us who had enjoyed Mom’s cooking for years.
How could Ezio Pinza not have liked her sauce? It was the best.
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TONY WORKED the food stand where his mom and dad introduced Italian sandwiches to fairgoers.