Food News

Alba's Ralph Pagano and the Vinny D Split: Do You Feel Lucky?

Alba's Seaside Italian has been softly open for almost a month, with a grand opening celebration set for this Thursday. The restaurant, owned by celebrity chef Ralph Pagano, features plenty of seafood, along with a menu that harkens back to Pagano's Italian-American roots in New York's outer boroughs.

Something that got us curious is the mention of Vinny D. The chicken scarpariello is served Vinny D-style. And there's a game played at every table after the check comes -- the Vinny D split. A modified version of a bingo cage holding balls numbered 1-100 (and emblazoned with the Alba logo) is wheeled over. Pick a number and if yours comes up -- your check is on the house (gratuity not included). So, the question remains, who is Vinny D?

Chef Pagano, who's as good as telling tales as he is at making a steaming bowl of pasta, explains that he and his family used to dine at Gargiolo's in Coney Island. The restaurant, around since 1907, is still one of the largest and most well-known Italian restaurants in Brooklyn.

Read also:
It's Ralph Pagano's World; We Just Eat in It.

"My great-grandfather, Vinny D, was a legit gangster. He wore the suit

and the pinky ring. His shoes were always shined and he always drove a

Lincoln. His favorite place to eat was Gargiulo's. We went there every

week and Vinny D's favorite part of the meal wasn't the scungili or the

calamari. It was at the end of the dinner, when he would reach into his

pocket pull out his cash and tip everyone down the line. He carried

around like five or ten thousand dollars, and he loved to show it."


explains that at the end of a meal, the staff would bring over a box

containing the numbers 1-100. If you guessed the correct number, your

meal was on the house. "They only played the game with tables of six or

less people. But this one evening, they asked Vinny D if he wanted to

play the game, even though there were 14 or 18 of us. So my aunt

Jeanette picked the number 17 and it came up. At first Vinny D seemed disappointed that he couldn't flash his cash. Then, he started to smile because he realized he could now tip the guys at the restaurant even more. He could really be a player. I was probably 13, but

I've remembered that moment for 30 years of my life."

Pagano has

decided to revive that game in honor of his great-grandfather. Called

the Vinny D split, every table has the chance to guess the lucky number. "So far, we've had three tables beat the


As for the chicken scarpariello? " Pagano explains that

too. "You notice that the chicken scarpariello is also Vinny D style?

That was the dish he would make when I was over his house. All the time.

It's so ingrained in my soul, I think it's part of my genetic makeup."

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss