A trattoria in Palermo
By DON LINDLEY
Salvo stands 5’8″ and weighs in somewhere north of 250 pounds. Nose tackle material. He is said by one of his neighbors to be a Mafioso capo of the Kalsa, Palermo’s seafront Arab quarter. He also oversees a simple restaurant that spills out of a narrow alley to the sidewalk and beyond. Even a good swath of the small public street is filled with Trattoria Salvo’s plastic tables and chairs.
A large, rectangular charcoal grill also resides on the street. It sits next to a big table where the day’s fresh catch of fish and seafood rests on ice. In fair weather, this is the primary kitchen.
Pamela and I, desperately hungry, first patronized Trattoria Salvo on a chilly Sunday afternoon in November 2007. The place we’d planned to have lunch was closed as were other nearby alternatives. On this chilly day, only the alley tables at Salvo’s were set outside and the lone gas heater wasn’t quite adequate. We wondered what we might be getting into.
What we were into was a memorable meal of expertly grilled and fried seafood — fish, squid, octopus and shrimp — complemented by pasta with clams, fresh salads and Grillo, a local dry white wine. Salvo himself checked to make sure we were pleased with our meals and, adopting a slightly menacing air, returned again when it was time to pay the paltry bill.
We took Pamela’s parents to Palermo four years later and went there again for lunch. Salvo was in prime form. A competitor had sprung up across the street and midway through our meal he started yelling at the owner, finishing his tirade with an energetic “up your’s” gesture. The food was better than we’d remembered. Pamela’s dad asked Salvo to pose with him for a photo, and Salvo suddenly was calm and all smiles.
Of course Pamela and I had to go there again — this time for dinner — when we arrived the other day in Palermo. Even though the number of tables in the street had grown, we were lucky to be seated. Salvo had aged a bit and perhaps lost a pound or two. After we ordered, we started discussing whether there really was anything to the talk of his Mafia ties. As we pondered the issue, five police officers emerged from the trattoria’s tiny indoor inner sanctum, smiling broadly and looking quite satisfied.
We figured we had the answer to our question. And before long, we also wore the smiles of satisfied diners.