Aside from the sharp writing and sophisticated story lines that make The Sopranos an unqualified hit, I have my own personal reasons for liking the show. I grew up in and around the part of New Jersey where the show is filmed and I can personally relate. The cafeteria in my old high school was set up so that nobody had to sit with their backs to the door. A poor tryout meant you'd be whacked from the football team. Detention offered a witness relocation program; take a pass on the offer. I've been in the club that is the Badda-Bing. And I grew up with a lot of cugines who could have been Jackie Aprile, Jr. or "Big Pussy" Bopensiero, not that I'm naming names mind you.
I figure that even though we're all going to have to lay low for the next three months or so, if you look in the right places you can make a marriage with some establishments in Charlotte to fill your needs. Not that I'm suggesting any connections, but here are three places that would make Tony Soprano feel like the capo di tutti capi during a visit.
Domenico's Italian Market (Matthews): Domenico's is located at 131 East John Street in Matthews. To find it, you have to drive behind Raucci's Italian Restaurant and enter the back door that's next to what used to be a loading dock. It's well worth the effort. Expect to hear Jerry Vale playing in the background.
Pros: If the only deli you've ever been to is at the Teeter or Winn-Dixie, go to Domenico's. Here, they don't have to ask how you want it sliced, they do it perfectly each time for each particular meat or cheese, then carefully place each slice on butcher paper then fold the paper and hand label it. You can get real mortadella, capicollo, and soppressatta; I got roughly a 1/4 pound of each for about $8. Take a late night slice out of the fridge and you'll understand. They also have homemade salads, sausages, and pastas.
Cons: While the shells were great, the filling of the cannoli was disappointing.
Price: Most hot or cold subs, made on fresh baked bread, run between $4.50 and $5.50 and include a pickle spear and an Italian cookie.
Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Pasta was not produced commercially in the US until 1848 and did not become popular until the late 19th century.
Nova's Bakery (1511 Central Avenue): This isn't an Italian bakery per se, but you can get your fix for great bread and pastries here. It's no Lodi Modern Bakery (7 Union Street, Lodi, NJ), but then what is?
Pros: Great cannoli with a perfect filling. Napoleons with black and white icing made to have with fresh espresso or cappuccino. Tiramisu? To die for. Good tasting semolina bread.
Cons: The crust on the bread wasn't crunchy. Granted, you can get the effect by putting it in the oven a couple of minutes, but I'm crunchy bread crust people.
Price: The pastries run from about $1.50 to about $2.75. The Semolina Bread was $2.50.
Fun Facts to Know and Tell: Tiramisu means "pick me up" in Italian.
The Comedy Zone: Bring your wife, bring your goumada, this is the place to find wise guys in Charlotte, usually with two shows nightly.
Pros: Good talent and name acts at a reasonable price. Long running best place in Charlotte to take a date, you can spend as much or as little as you like and still feel that you got your money's worth. Comparable to any top comedy club in the country.
Cons: Now, when it comes to Italian food, I know this place ain't no Ciro's, but not for nothing; if you have four calzones on the menu, do you have to name them after Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Caroline Rhea and Whoopi Goldberg? So what, Ray Romano and Janeane Garofalo are piccione merda? How about at least adding the Joey Buttafuoco? This is some tender young veal Parmesan followed by a shot of Grappa, an Italian liqueur made from left-over grapeskins that will leave you with a speech impediment.
Price:Varies by act but usually reasonable.
Fun Facts to Know and Tell: The Comedy Zone moved to the Center City Entertainment District from its former Independence Boulevard location. The new club is easier to get to, plus you can check out the people waiting to get into the Time Lounge which is located next door; it's like getting two shows for the price of one. *
You can e-mail Gene Lazo at GeneYouIgnorantSlut@Yahoo.com