A Do-it-Yourself Tradition is a Recurring Theme in Italian-American Households
A full day of filming needs to start out with a little Italian fuel, and where better than Bommarito Bakery & Pizza on Greater Mack in St. Clair Shores? This hot spot—known for the best cannelloni in the civilized universe since 1925—exists in the childhood memories of virtually every Eastside Italian, especially trips made on Sunday after Mass, when the bread was steaming hot and the pastries at their freshest.
True to form, Bommarito Bakery still services Eastsiders and those of us Westsiders willing to make the long haul to St. Clair Shores. Current baker is Eric, a Scandinavian/Belgian who speaks more Flemish than Italian, but he’s married into the family and can produce Italian pastry with the best. Secret to his cannelloni, he’ll maintain, is as old as the hills: fresh cream and genuine chocolate.
We’re accompanied throughout the shoot by Frank Campanale, who reminisces with the counter people about his own Bommarito memories.
From there, we head to Nino Salvaggio’s massive outlet on Hall Road in Clinton Township, where along with his aunt Rose and mom Grace (who at 100 and 90 respectively, are offering up combined shopping expertise of 180 years) purchase the basics of a traditional Sunday Italian dinner, fresh tomatoes, mushrooms, garlic and pasta.
Says Frank, “They are walking archives, two of the most amazing people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Figure, they lived through both World Wars, cleaning, cooking, planting the gardens while working as well. Mom worked at Kresge’s for years—she’d start dinner first thing in the morning, get us kids off to school, put in a full day, come home and finish cooking. It’s a lesson in self-sufficiency, how to survive regardless of a situation.” He recalls this self-sufficiency illustrated best when he came home one day to find new living room carpet—wool, of course, he maintains that his mother would not suffer synthetics into the house. As he admired the carpet, he noted that mom was hard at work on the remnants, painstakingly picking off the wool fibers with which she stuffed pillows. Pillows, he insists, she still uses today.
He hopes that today’s youth can pick up survivor tips from his pluck aunt and mother. “Academics are great,” he says. “You need them. But the economics go south, I wonder if kids today have what it takes to make it.”
Frank himself is a product of his fiercely independent relatives, and though his career at Smith Barney was as illustrious as any, he claims he can fix a tractor or a wristwatch with equal ability.
Wine Making with Rocco
Tradition and do-it-yourself backbone is a recurring theme in Italian American households, even among those who have made it financially to a level that they need not to anything—much less everything—from scratch. Rocco Patamia is one such example, whose sensationally decorated Clinton Township house, the product of his successful Spectrum Painting company, is the setting for one of his families most heralded holidays: wine making day. Beginning early and finishing late, Rocco’s clan, including daughter Paola Palazzolo and his numerous grandkids (including Rocco Jr.) gather with friends, and relatives, first to make wine by hand, crushing, pressing and ultimately bottling a rich red merlot, but then gathering to enjoy the handcrafted culinary specialties of wife Joanne, which today includes fire-grilled lamb, oven roasted rabbit, fried eggplant and copious bowls of pasta.