Oh, sure, I know. You are one of those people prepared to die in the last ditch in defense of the notion that the nation's best restaurant is 140 miles west of here in Pennsylvania, in Donora.
The Redwood restaurant in Donora is, assuredly, an ornament to the republic, and to that town, which has hitherto been famous only as the birthplace of Stan Musial and the place where, on Oct. 30, 1948, 17 people died in an industrial smog. Donora nearly died when the steel industry got sick, and it deserves the consolation of having what is justly regarded as one of America's best restaurants.
But I am partial to Visaggio's, which exists here, near Harrisburg, in an old barn. It exists because Bill Lamadue came home one day and found his wife, Rosemary Visaggio Lamadue, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, Italian-style.
She was crying and saying: "I've been a good wife and mother" -- all true, as we shall see -- "but I haven't done anything" -- her confusion, not mine -- "and I want to run a great restaurant." He, nothing if not pliable, said, "Right ho!" and quit his job and mortgaged the house.
Herewith Will's Law of Discontent, also known in scientific circles as the Paradox of Prosperity: Discontent increases with opportunities for acting on it.
There is a lot of discontent going around among middle-aged people in the middle classes of affluent societies. These are people who have the ability to imagine other ways of living, and have the disposable income to act on their imaginings. A 13th-century peasant toiling from sunup to sundown behind an ox, in the shadow of a castle, tilling fields owned by the owner of the castle, never said to his spouse, "Hey, let's chuck this and open a beer garden."
Bill said goodbye to Harrisburg financial circles and bought the barn, which then contained a bar and a band. And some rough customers. He got tired of tossing out ruffians -- very tired after two of them turned out to be Penn State linebackers. Out went the band and the bar, to give full scope to the legacy of Abruzzi, in the form of Rosemary.
Abruzzi is a region of Italy that is, Rosemary says, the origin of world's best cooks and her grandmother. Bill says that after Catherine de Medici married King Henry II of France, she sent to Abruzzi for chefs to teach the French a thing or two. Bill, who is of French extraction, may be embroidering the truth as homage to his wife.
But this is, I trust indisputable: Italians are the master race. This is so because they refuse to take to heart the modern conviction that life is serious and probably will not turn out well. Italians lack something where statecraft is concerned, but they are unrivaled in the kitchen. Perhaps contemporary Italian political philosophy (is that an oxymoron?) can be summarized: "I do not care who writes the laws as long as I can make the sauces."
Rosemary's restaurant is not for some sophisticates. The menu has a quotation from Dale Carnegie and, worse yet, Keats. But you do not go to Visaggio's to read, and the food is immobilizingly good.
At first they worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, coming in at 10 a.m. and leaving at 4 a.m. Now they work seven shorter days a week. Their boilers have blown up, the roof has blown off, the septic system has failed, the wiring has been inadequate to its tasks, the parking lot had to be repaved. What recently? The air conditioning broke. In five years they have taken seven days off. Five of them were used for a quick family trip to Mexico, where they all fell deathly ill.
Happily, their 17-year-old son loves to cook and hankers to go into the business. Their 19- year-old son bakes bread for them and others, the old-fashioned way: on bricks in an open- hearth oven.
This success story can be told because two adults in mid-passage said four words that millions of adults would like to say about their jobs: "The hell with it." Looking at a tempting gamble, they took the dice and their lives into their own hands. They remain, says Bill, in amazement, "a very affectionate, kissing, Italian family." That is the trouble with cultural backwaters like Enola. Folks here have not even heard the news about the ruination of the traditional family.