Today's tale, O hungry friends of Italy, is entitled "Family Out Meets Family In," though we didn't know this would be so when our foursome targeted Angie's Italian Gardens for a raid one Friday evening.
But talk about a family restaurant: There's Papa Angie, Mama Maria, Daughter Donna and at luncheon time, we hear, Brother Michel, "Washington's Omelette King," who rustles up the eggs right at your table.
That's only the start of things we didn't know and eventually learned. We'd never even noticed this place, though the DeFinis family has been doing its Neapolitan thing here for 18 years.
Some of this you can read in the little window next to the canopied door, but you sure won't see much else there - for the restaurant is upstairs.
Dreary, narrow stairs at that. But don't back down, for once topside you enter a surprisingly large room, sectioned into a series of roomles by some planters and brick dividers.
The name, remember is "Italian Gardens" - and the chief crop seems to be plastic grapes, hanging from vines on the back ceiling.
By the door next to a long bar we noticed a mustachioed man in a chef's hat, but it didn't occur to us then that he might be Angie, or that it was Daughter Donna escorting us to one of the 50 or so tables with jolly green-and-white oilcloths.
Up front the place fairly oozes with memorabilia. There's an elaborate gallery with photos of such old favorite Italians as Sonny Jurgensen, Charley Taylor, Sammy Baugh, Pearl Bailey and the Tip O'Neills.
There is also quite an army of toy soldiers that are actually bottles issued by Liquore Galliano; and there's a huge bird bath with what seems to be a stone pineapple sitting in it; and one of those lamps with the weird blobs that float up and down in liquid.
The big fold-out-model menu made good reading, especially when we peeked through the pasted-over pages and saw the old prices running at about half of today's. Ah, yes, but there's no returning to those thrilling days of yesterday.
Nobody in our family read much past the page of "Italian entrees," anyway, even though other chapters told of pastas from $3.15 to $4,90, a fancy house salad to $4, and complete dinners with appetizer, garlic bread, beverage and dessert from $4.75 to $7.50.
A scientifially sound polling of our table (that means four persons simultaneously announcing their decisions) produced slightly awkward results for this column, in which life is a variety of spices to share and compare: Everybody said veal.
All right - but to be good guinea pigs, the least we could do is try different renditions of veal. From this framework for peace, an agreement on specifies flowed easily.
Quickly scanning the English run-downs of each dish, our 11-year-old son put in a bid for cotoletta milanese, which is veal cutlet dipped in egg batter and lightly sauteed in butter, with an Italian salad and spagehetti, for $6.75.
From our 9-year-old daughter came a request for veal parmigiana, at $6.25. My wife selected the scallopine al napoli, which is veal sauteed in oil and blended with a tomato-wine sauce, at $6.75. I went with an old friend, Al Marsala, involving the wine of the same name in the sauce, for $6.50.
During the warmup for all this, we emptied a generous basket of unusually good garlic bread - easy on the garlic and laced with a bright cheese. Next the salads which, with Italian dressing, prompted exceptional praise.
Came time for our game of round-robin veal, from which steemed findings that (1) the milanese, with a good squeeze of lemon, was a most popular crispy treat; (2) the tomato sauces, which so often drown out everything else around, were light complements here; and (3) marsala is an acquired taste that children don't acquire.
Right about there is when Angie introduced himself (we kept our cover he's soft on kids: "If you don't finish everything," he mock-sternly warned our daugher, "it'll cost you double." (If you care, she didn't and it didn't). To each child, he presented a special autographed bicentennial edition of what we thought was the menu until we noticed it was the house wine list.
No dessert, thank you; by now it is, as they say in Italy, ciao -time. Our bill, including two beers and two colas, was $31.48 plus tip, and our list of pleasant eateries was one Italian restaurant longer.