Saying Goodbye to a Favorite Restaurant: A Last Supper Story
My dad, eating his last supper at Antonina's on January 31. I cried just uploading this.
Photos by Christina Uticone
Three weeks ago, on a trip to my hometown in Upstate New York, I ate my very last meal at my very favorite restaurant in the world -- Antonina's.
Antonina's was my family's go-to restaurant for "no one feels like cooking" night. When it was my turn to choose a special dinner for a birthday or graduation, I chose Antonina's. I've auditioned every boyfriend I've ever had there, including my husband. I once figured out, over a plate of Antonina's pasta, that the boyfriend sitting across from me was cheating on me; years later, during another heartbreak, the only thing that could get me off my parents' couch was the promise of Aglio et Olio with mushrooms, and a basket full of thinly sliced Italian white bread.
Knowing that the restaurant was closing, I had several weeks to think about this meal, which I came to refer to -- mostly jokingly -- as my Last Supper. I thought about a lot of things, from whom I would see to what I would order, but I didn't even think about bringing tissues. Now that was a mistake.
Dinner for 12, including drinks and tip, about $250. End of an era indeed.
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The moment I entered the restaurant I felt a tangle of emotions rush toward the center of my chest, making it hard to breathe. My eyes began welling with hot tears and I realized, with some alarm, that this wasn't just going to be sad. It had the potential to be embarrassing. The harder I tried to get it together, the more the tears came; when our waitress handed me my menu, it was over. Sadness began leaking furiously from my eyeballs and, unfortunately, my nose. My mom mopped me up pretty quickly, and after the first glass of wine it was smooth sailing.
Ultimately it was a lovely dinner shared with my family, and my husband's family. I threw a 12 top at the waitstaff on their last Friday night, when they were booked solid--overbooked, even--and they had us in and out (even with a very late arrival from our twelfth) in 90 minutes.
Both dad and I forgot mushrooms for our final Aglio et Olio. We may never recover from the shock.
Oh, and I went with the Aglio et Olio, with one meatball and a side of sausage. Something old, something new.
The trick isn't just the flavor of the dressing, but that the lettuce is always perfectly dressed. It's a texture thing; I can't explain it.
I reveled in the house salad, which is this simple thing that no one I have ever met has been able to replicate: iceberg lettuce, the barest hint of radicchio, and a single wedge of tomato, in the most maddening, impossible-to-achieve-at-home vinaigrette. My dad swears pepperoncini juice is the key to the dressing, but I don't know. I suspect the secret is inside the walls of Antonina's, not inside a pantry or refrigerator. (Not that I won't keep trying.) Even though I wanted to eat every last slippery strand of spaghetti coated in olive oil, I held back, knowing that, just as there is only one "last time" one can eat at their favorite restaurant, there is also only one "last, late night, leftover pig-out" and I wanted in.
And as I ate, reflecting on the big, and the small, and the no-reason-at-all celebrations I've enjoyed at the corner of Bridge and Bayard Streets over the years, I realized that the group at my table hadn't been in a room together since my wedding in 2009, and that in itself seemed a proper way to say goodbye to a place where I always felt at home, and like family.
(Not that I didn't go back the next night just to get drunk in the bar with the regulars. 'Cause I did. But that's another article altogether.)
Before I left that evening I made sure to say hello, and thank you, to owners Annette and John McDermott, who gave everyone in tiny lil' Seneca Falls 37 years of wonderful meals and memories. I did forget to steal a menu, however. Dammit.
Do you have a Last Supper story to share? I'd love to hear it, so leave me a comment! Especially if you cried, so I don't feel like such a weirdo.
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