Getting Salty is a new feature in which we ask someone hard at work in the restaurant industry to dish about their job and Boston’s culinary scene.
“I don’t have a title. I do it all, honey. I clean toilets. I mop floors. I love it,” says Maria DelVecchio, 50, who’s been a server at the North End’s Trattoria Il Panino for 23 years. She came to Boston from Naples as a 14-year-old in 1979 and started working in the neighborhood soon after — first at Modern Pastry and later at the now-closed Piccola Venezia.
“I fell in love with the whole North End feel. I felt like I was in Italy,” she says.
What’s the first restaurant you ever ate at in Boston? Piccola Venezia. I had seafood. I love seafood! I think I had a scungilli salad. It’s very rare. People don’t make it anymore. And polenta with sausage. I felt like I was in Italy again.
What’s one thing you’d like to fix about the restaurant industry here? I want for everyone to get along and work as a team. There’s a lot of cutthroat-ness in the restaurant business.
How has the restaurant landscape changed since you arrived? Oh my God. Honey. I could count the restaurants on one hand when I started down here. Through the years, after the Big Dig, the North End just exploded. It exploded with beauty. Salem Street was all butcher shops back in the day.
What other restaurants do you visit? I’m a good cook, and I love to cook at home. When I do go out to eat, I come to the North End. I go to Carmelina’s. I love Limoncello. I walk in, and I know what kind of place it’s going to be. That starts at the front door.
What’s your earliest food memory that made you think, “I want to work in restaurants”? For me, it was the love of red sauce. I grew up making homemade sauce, and coming down here in the North End, the red sauce was just unbelievable. Or having a panino with prosciutto, mozzarella, and basil. When I was growing up, you went to the local bakery, you got the fresh bread. I love that, and for me, I have it here.
What’s the worst restaurant experience you’ve ever had? If I don’t get a good vibe, I have an appetizer and I leave. You get a feeling right when you walk in. I don’t wait around to have a bad experience. I just say, I’ll have a drink and go.
How could Boston become a better food city? I would love to see Hanover Street completely shut down, with outdoor seating and more of a European flavor. Hanover Street is a nightmare with the cars. Just do all outdoor seating, with people walking around. Now you can’t drive. People double park. I’d love to see more restaurants with outdoor seating.
Name three adjectives for Boston diners. The older crowd is conservative; locals are appreciative; and people are knowledgeable.
What’s the most overdone trend right now? Raw food.
What are you reading? I read Yelp. I read Facebook posts and OpenTable. I read reviews, and I look for my name!
How’s your commute? I live in Revere with my two boys. I like a backyard. I like to garden. I like the feeling [of being] outdoors. I know what time to leave; I know how to manage the traffic. For me, it’s the parking. You’ve got to wait for one of your co-workers to leave, and you take her spot. We constantly move our cars around because they’ve taken so many two-hour parking [spots] from us. I wish we could have a parking lot for employees for $10.
What’s the one food you never want to cook again? To be honest, I don’t have an answer. I’m a poor man’s dish kind of girl. Whatever I have, I can prepare a meal out of it.
What kind of restaurant is Boston missing right now? Someplace with pet-friendly outdoor seating. People go out more and more with their pets every day.
What’s your most missed Boston restaurant? Anthony’s Pier 4. Biba. The Four Seasons. Joseph’s Aquarium, which was famous for their twin lobsters. People came from around the country to have their lobsters.
Who was your most memorable customer? Even the people who are rude, I make them feel it’s OK to be rude. I kiss them, I hug them, and I say goodbye. I’ve also met a lot of movie stars. Ben Affleck was one of a kind. He was filming down here for a long time. He’s just a regular Joe.
If you had to eat your last meal in Boston, what would it be? I would have seafood! I’d have zuppa di pesce — clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp in a beautiful red sauce, you know?