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Strange Pride: Italian-American Food, Folks, and Felonies

David Hammond | Jul 12, 200208:56 AM

As an Italian American, I get a little uncomfortable when I sense the strange “ethnic” pride in things Mafioso. Hey, I’m a big fan of Sopranos and Sinatra, but I can’t help but feel it strange to admire criminal behavior (even if, historically, the cosa nostra stepped in to protect folks who were ignored or worse by regular law enforcement, it sometimes seems easy to forget that these original gangsters specialized in “protection,” prostitution and simple murder to make a living).

That’s all by way of setting up an experience I had yesterday afternoon at Alpine Foods on North Avenue in Elmwood Park.. I’ve had very good Italian subs from this place, but today I was poking around on the shelves and found a new pasta sauce. Giancana brand marinara. On the label is a picture of Antoinette Giancana, and the tagline is – I kid you not – “Just like my Dad’s, maybe better.” Dad, of course, is Sam “MoMo” Giancana, syndicate boss, co-conspirator in various Kill Fidel and possibly Kill Kennedy plots, who got whacked in his basement, grilling sausages, a few blocks from Alpine Foods. Around the corner on North Harlem, there’s Caponie’s (“the pizza you can’t refuse”), named, of course, after Scarface Al, another local boy who made it big and bad.

No doubt, Hollywood glamour burnishes mafia imagery, but is it not strange to sell a pasta sauce by trading on the name of someone who was described in a police report as “a snarling, sarcastic, ill-tempered sadistic psychopath”? I mean, you don’t see Vlad the Impaler brand Paprika, Joseph Stalin borscht, or Pol Pot-stickers.

So, I bought a bottle of Giancana pasta sauce for my middle daughter, who’s currently reading “The Outfit.” And she was thrilled. “Is that Antoinette?” she exclaimed when she saw the picture of the mafia princess on the label. It’s that same strange pride – the pride I see in my youngest daughter when she relates that her friends think I’m in the mafia (they just assume that because I’m Sicilian, wear a goomba fedora and strap-shoulder t-shirts, and sometimes consort with known criminals/attorneys, baddabing, I must be mobbed up).

Anyway, I intend to try Antoinette’s sauce this weekend. If it’s good, I’ll post about it; if not, I’m going to dummy up. No sense asking for trouble.

PS. I showed my oldest daughter the bottle of Giancana sauce and she said, “Hey, I thought that name sounded familiar. I know these guys! I’ve been in their basement. It’s totally sound-proofed. You can yell and yell and nobody hears you.” Cool? Fuggedaboutit.

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