Written by J. Dennis Robinson
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Face it. He’s not coming back and Emilio’s is closed forever. Those of us who lived for a hand-crafted lunch cooked and served by Emilio Maddaloni have only a feast of memories. But wasn’t it great while it lasted? Our archived story follows below.
EDITOR's NOTE: This article appeared in 2002, five years before Emilio made his last appearance in his little grocery shop on Daniel Street in Portsmouth, NH. -- JDR
Inside Emilio's in Portsmouth, NH
The sign says it all -- Sorry, We're Open.
I don't remember what year Emilio Maddaloni put that plastic sign in the bay window of his one-room Italian eatery in downtown Portsmouth. He made it by cutting a cheap hardware store sign in half and reversing the sentiments. This is a man who would rather be anywhere but at work, and makes no bones about it. You eat here, you pay attention. You got a problem? Let's talk about it. You want a burger? Go to MacDonald’s.
The other side of the sign, as if you haven't guessed, reads --- Yes, We're Closed. No apologies tendered. And it’s a cold heartless sign indeed for those who have become addicted over the last quarter century to Emilio's hand made sandwiches, pasta fagioli, codfish cakes, sausage rolls, artichokes and potato kale soup. You get what the chef is in the mood to make. You may eat in, standing at the little counter by the bulletin board, amid shelves of Italian groceries. Or you may take out. You may not call ahead, because Emilio has no phone. You may not be in a hurry.
Emilio knows all his customers by name. He knows where they live. He knows what they eat. He knows about their jobs, their children, their health, their love lives and their politics. Strangers must be prepared to fill in those details, in Italian, German, Russian, French -- in whatever language the owner is in the mood for that day. The radio may be playing blues, opera, country, hip-hop, big band.
"Hey, Little Sister," Emilio says to a woman who has stepped nervously into the intimate eatery at 87 Daniel Street. She has that where-the-hell-am-I look of a first time customer. "How can Emilio help you? Were you looking for the mall?"
There used to be an old blackboard on the street that listed the daily fare. For the longest time it simply read -- THIS is a SIGN -- and indeed it was. Visitors come as much for the metaphysics as the food. For months Emilio insisted on showing everyone his talking GI Joe backpack. Then there was the talking pillow in the shape of Signmund Freud, then a talking cell phone. Now he has a talking orange pumpkin that sits on the shelf by the Food Museum, near the rack of Emilio-style berets and aprons.
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