The truth is James Gandolfini, who died Wednesday at age 51 of a heart attack, had a career that extended well beyond the hit HBO show The Sopranos. There was the time he played Winston, a gay hit man, in The Mexican. It made 90 minutes with Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts almost bearable.
His portrayal of Eddie Poole, a scumbag porno talent scout who led a young "actress" to her death in Joel Schumacher's unforgettably creepy 8MM still gives me nightmares.
But it was Gandolfini's long-running role as Tony Soprano that gave him a permanent place in our lives as a conflicted yet imposing New Jersey mob boss. He will be terribly missed by millions.
I grew up in New Jersey, and The Sopranos was a big deal. Every Sunday night, friends and family would, after much arguing, gather at a central location. A Jewish mother would muster up her best gravy for veal parmigiana (or just order out). Any out-of-turn talking during the show was met with a swift "You wanna get f*ckin' whacked?" by someone's father putting on his best tough-guy Brooklyn-Italian accent.
Let's not be coy. Gandolfini's cholesterol level at the time of death was likely higher than most Americans' credit scores, but his size made him a terrifying presence on the big and small screens. Food was always a big part of The Sopranos, and it seems only appropriate to celebrate his life by sharing a big meal with friends and family, as many of us did when The Sopranos was in its heyday, or perhaps before or after seeing one of his movies. Here's a few places that fit the bill.
The Coral Gables institution is one of the few places in Miami with decent service and that old-school Italian-American feel. The dark wood interior, the gussied-up waiters with thick Italian accents, and homemade pastas make it a perfect for when you want to pretend your last name ends with a vowel. Word is it's also one of the few places left around town that isn't bugged.
Sangwiches are just as important to Italians as they are to every pork-and-pickle-loving Cuban. Hardly an episode of The Sopranos went by without Tony or Big Pussy or someone shoving a meatball hero or an Italian cold-cut sub down their pie holes. Antonio Vecchio, who hails from Campania, Italy, opened the Coral Gables shop in 2005 and has been building a loyal following. Can anyone say Sicilian meatball sandwiches?
OK, OK. So the actual King's County is in New York and The Sopranos was set in New Jersey. Whatever. This spot has crisp crusts, melty cheese, and spicy Buffalo wings. King's is a small place where everyone has a thick accent and a big personality. Mangia!
2. Il Gabbiano
So imagine you're loosely affiliated with the Cosa Nostra in the New York-New Jersey area. Your cousin Federico the Foot, who moved to Florida a few years ago for "health" reasons, says he's met some Hondurans with a connection from the Bolivian Andes selling China white so fine it could bring JFK back to life and soon after send his well-coiffed skull to the moon. So you book a flight and set up a meeting at Il Gabbiano. You valet your rented Ferrari out front and ensure there are enough big-breasted escorts to go around. You order the $40 risotto, and sure you'll take the white truffle shavings for an extra $80. Don't forget the $500 worth of wine. Deal?
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This temple of cured Italian meats is reserved specifically for the wife and family. It's quaint, well priced, and delicious. It's a great place for Sunday dinners, a romantic date, or a celebratory family gathering, where bowls of fresh pasta and wood boards of salty, meaty salumi circulate like rumors.
For more follow Zach on Twitter @ZachIsWeird.