La Serenata

Remembering a family restaurant that meant much more to its regulars than a good, Italian dinner.

  • La Serenata provided my first taste of veal scallops, of eggplant, Manicotti Parmagiani, cooked shrimp, Biscuit Tortoni.
    Photo by Hungry Dudes
  • I listened to Vince’s suggestions, studied the menu, remembered seeing or smelling various dishes as they passed by me each night or overhearing diners’ reactions, and thought seriously for the first time in my life about what I actually wanted to eat, learning the way appetite and mood and daily circumstance interacted.
    Photo by Kennejima
  • In 2014, on the 53rd anniversary of my father’s death — the year in which he’d been dead as long as he’d been alive — images and memories of La Serenata flooded back. I wanted to research what had happened to the place and to the Russo family.
    Photo by Kricket

I opened the door of La Serenata around 5:30 as usual. It was a cold winter evening in early 1959, and the restaurant's thick garlicky warmth was like a second door to walk through. I waved at Paul Russo, part-owner and bartender, and smiled at his brother Vince, part-owner and maitre d'.

"Evening, Mr. Skloot. We've got your table ready."

I hung up my overcoat, checked that I had all the papers I needed, and followed Vince to my booth near the kitchen. I liked the anonymity of its location, and the hubbub when Vince rushed through the doors releasing the voices of his mother, wife, and sister-in-law as they cooked.

Vince unfolded the white cloth napkin for me and handed me a menu. "Mama's cooking tonight," he said. "So you might want to try the Home Made Ravioli."

"Thank you, Vince. I had the Shrimps fra Diavolo last night."

"Make Mr. Skloot his drink, Paul," he called as he left for the kitchen.

3/20/2020 1:32:00 AM

ood story. My parents used to take my brother Bobby and myself there in the early/mid 60s. I remember one of the waiters also worked at Lido Elementary as a janitor, though I don't recall his name....short guy. After my Dad left my mom and moved to Manhattan, he'd come down on Fridays, pick up us up from our house on Vinton and we'd spend the weekend with him. He always took us to Central Park, and the Village - in 64/65, the village was a very happening place for an 9 and 10 year old. Then he'd drive us back to Long Beach, and nearly ever time, stop at La Serenata for diner before dropping us home. After Bobby and I started taking the train into the city by ourselves (LB to Jamaica, switch for a Manhattan train, meet dad outside Penn Station where he'd be sitting in his 65 white conv cadi), and when Sunday came, we'd take the train by ourselves back home - no more La Serenta stops.....

9/27/2019 9:01:19 AM

What a wonderful article that speaks to many of us of our own experiences growing up with the La Serenatas of our own towns and the warmth and hospitality that accompanied the nurturing food of our Italian American neighbors and friends.

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