That places me squarely in the Resolution Zone, that fanciful timeframe during which we bind ourselves to a host of worthy and sometimes unattainable goals for the coming year.
Those resolutions can expand, contract and morph as the months progress. As of this moment, I’ve resolved to:
1) Exercise more, consume fewer calories and in general take better care of my aging body.
2) Seek input from current and former Fra Noi readers and the community-at-large with an eye toward making an already wonderful publication even better.
3) Work hand-in-hand with my fellow board members at the Italian American Veterans Museum and Casa Italia to take these cherished institutions to the next level.
4) Spend more time with family and friends, especially my beloved and long-suffering wife, who will no doubt be apprehensive about the time and effort required to fulfill resolutions 2 and 3.
5) Dine at a minimum of two Italian restaurants each month.
Wait a minute. Aren’t New Year’s resolutions supposed to be lofty and oh so serious? By those standards, 5 seems frivolous and downright fun.
Fun? No doubt. But frivolous? Not if you’ve been tracking the trends like I have.
Two years ago, I added every local independently owned Italian restaurant of any note to Fra Noi’s complimentary list. Since then, I’ve had a front-row seat to the alarming decline of an industry niche.
At the start of 2016, there were nearly 250 businesses on the list. Since then, not a month has gone by without notification from the postal service that one if not several had closed their doors and left no forwarding address. As 2018 dawns, the list has dwindled to just under 200, representing a 20 percent decline.
During that time period, two of my favorite Italian eateries met their demise — Monastero’s and Fiorentino’s — joining another four dozen of their culinary paesani in the fond memories of their patrons.
Every single one of these establishments boasted 4 Yelp stars or better, so they certainly weren’t undone by lack of quality. Monastero’s was able to leave on its own terms, but most of the others succumbed to a brutal marketplace that punishes owners with long hours, slim profit margins and stiff competition from every conceivable direction.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t sit idly by dining on steamed cauliflower and panko-encrusted tilapia at home when an entire business sector that’s so near and dear to us is depending upon us for its very survival!
I’ve done my part in the past, regularly patronizing ristoranti and trattorie across the Chicago area, with special attention paid to Fra Noi advertisers, of course.
In the last few months, I had Trattoria Porretta cater a family event and Roberto’s a veterans museum party, I swung by Freddy’s to pick up enough food for three consecutive dinners, and my wife and I have dined at Spacca Napoli, La Fontanella and Erie Cafe. Next stop: Palermo’s and Café Roma.
But there’s so much more we all can do to keep the flame of la vera cucina italiana burning brightly in the Chicago area.
If you don’t already have a favorite authentic Italian restaurant, find one, and once you have, patronize them as many times a year as your budget will allow. If you already have one, up your patronage and seek out a second. (The research is half the fun!)
And don’t wait for the spring thaw to get started. The sledding for restaurants is toughest in the dead of winter, when diners are reluctant to venture forth.
I’ve read that every list of New Year’s resolutions should have a least one item that’s enjoyable and easy to achieve. I’ve found mine. It’s not too late to add it to your list, too.
The above appeared in the March issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.