A Happy Day…But Who the F-ck Is Henry Winkler?

Damn, I’ve so wanted to get something new up here since Friday, but…

It’s now Sunday, well, actually, Monday at 12:39am It’ly time, and I’m zonked. I’m hung over from lunch, and hung over from dinner, and I’m tired, totally worn out. But I have to get a short note in here now because it’s too funny.

I’m in Florence, have been since late Thursday, and I’ve been hanging out with some very old friends from my early Austin days, Cosimo and Rebecca Lucchese who currently live in Germany. We’ve been plotting for years about getting together somewhere in Europe, and finally, here we are. Cos is of Italian heritage, in case the name doesn’t give it away and he loves all things Italian. Interestingly, though they come to Italy often, they don’t know Florence or Tuscany the way I do, so I’ve been planning most of the meals and food excursions. We’ll hear more about the cultural stuff later, but I’ve got a funny food related tale to tell. Though maybe the food is tangential.

Cosimo is the last male in the line of Luccheses from San Antonio who created the very famous cowboy boots. They used to be only custom made footwear, and folks like LBJ, Gary Cooper, The Andrews Sisters, Bing Crosby, and a whole slew of other famous folks would regularly have Cos’s grandfather make boots for them. Did I say famous?

One of the places I visited on my last trip in 2007 was an interesting restaurant that is more ongoing social and artistic experience than an actual restaurant, but the food happens to be spectacular. And it happens to be ALL MEAT. And that is the name of the place, Solociccia. It’s located about 20 miles or so south of Florence in the beautiful Chianti countryside. Did I say beautiful?

 

Solociccia is the brainchild of a guy purported to be the most famous butcher in the world, Dario Cecchini. And I now believe that claim. He’s known to all sorts of celebrities around the globe, has been featured on TV in the states many times, was one of the subjects of the NY bestselling book Heat, and has been featured in newspaper and magazine articles everywhere.

His butcher shop is across the street from the restaurant and it is sort of social center for residents and tourists in Panzano…he gives out generous samples of his meats, as well as bottomless glasses of his family’s wine. The restaurant is a relatively new development and features two seatings for dinner with a prix fixe meal/menu on three nights, and again for lunch on Sunday. It is a grand, merry affair in which Dario shows off his butchering skills with six courses of meat dishs…a few token vegetable dishes are thrown in for some weird reason! It’s all delicious.

Before the lunch we hung out in the butcher shop, like almost everyone else in Panzano, and had lots of free wine, some great nibbles, and plenty of laughs from Dario, who likes to play opera and jazz at loud volume in his shop which has been in his family for generations, well over one hundred years.

At some point we start talking to him and Cos tells him about his connection to the boot makers or yesteryear. Dario flips.

At some point we start talking to him and Cos tells him about his connection to the boot makers or yesteryear. Dario flips. Turns out he LOVES Lucchese boots, owns four pairs! So the two of them have a love fest and exchange hand signals, as do all Italians in animated conversation, and we wait for the lunch hour of one to arrive.
Before that actually happens, some dude strolls up who people, including Dario and his American girlfriend, and the woman who runs the front-of-house of the restaurant across the street seem to recognize. I look at him hard, he seems a bit familiar, but I can’t possibly place the guy. Some Americans strolling toward the restaurant look at him with obvious recognition, and I overhear them talking about wanting to get a picture with him. So as they walk toward him, I say, “Hey, that guy seems to be someone famous, but I’m pop-culture starved and I have no idea who he is. Can you tell me his name?”
They look at me as if I were from Mars and respond, “That’s Henry Winkler!!! Didn’t you watch Happy Days??”
Well, in fact I’ve never seen the show, but I do know about it, and I do know he was The Fonz. So sue me.
The American woman gets her picture taken with him, and as she does, I also shoot a picture from a distance. It looks like this:

But it doesn’t end there!
And it gets much, much better….
Stay tuned……
Okay, I’m back about 8 hours and some sleep later.
After this siting, we all went into the restaurant to have an amazing 3 hour lunch which just went on and on, meat course after meat course. There were about 11 of us, all American, sitting around a great round table. It was an “All Meat Sunday” featuring bread covered with a dryish meat sauce, a plate of fried vegetables with fried meat chunks (meatballs, breaded pork cutlets) scattered in, a plate of marinated, mostly raw, meatballs, a bowl of white beans and garbanzos, a plate of beautiful sliced roasted beef, some meltingly tender braised beef and a salad of vegetables with a different kind of meltingly tender beef chunks. Yes, it was all delicious, and yes, we had lots of wine. Then there was coffee and a modest lemon cake….AND, three different kinds of herb liqueurs. And, yes, they were yummy.

 

For all these food shots, go to the gallery posted on Picasa: http://picasaweb.google.com/miguelquinn
There was lots of conversation, plenty of laughter, and at least for 3 hours, some new friends were made. One of the guys was a urologist from Connecticut who happened to know the Doc whose clinic did my vasectomy many years ago in Austin…Dr. Richard Chopp! Yes, that is correct, Dr. Dick Chopp, doctor of, well, you get the picture.

 

As we lingered around the table digesting and taking our coffees, Dario’s gal is ushering Henry Winkler around the restaurant, letting him interact with the people around the tables–each table occupies the entire room in which it is placed–so they were going from room to room.

He came into ours, the American ghetto, and began asking folks where they are from. He’s obviously a ham and trying to interact with everyone. Of course we all yelled out “Texas!”

A bit into his schtick, I decided to have some fun.

I said something along the lines of, “Excuse me, but I honestly don’t know who the f-ck you are!” That cracked up the room, including Winkler. I said, “Are you Woody Allen or something?”  And he replied, “In spite of what Texans think, not all Jews from New York are Woody Allen!!!”  More laughs all around!  Then he said, “Whether you know who I am or not, I mostly want you to remember that I’ve written some great children’s books. You might really enjoy getting some for your grandchildren.” Since we had a urologist at the table and we’d been talking about vasectomies and reversals and so on, I said, “Darn, I gave my son a vasectomy for his birthday, so we won’t be having any grandchildren!” More laughs.

I can’t remember now where else the conversation went, but he seemed to enjoy the teasing. And he was more than accommodating for all photo requests and many of the people at the table had pictures taken with him. He is clearly a decent, nice guy.

He was there because it is his wife’s favorite restaurant in the area…he’d been in Rome doing what he does: acting. Oh, and he didn’t hesitate promoting an upcoming show in Liverpool to the British guy at the table…it felt a bit like he was on the couch of the Tonight Show, promoting books and upcoming performances.

It was a great way to end a totally amazing meal.

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