A Farewell To Meat: Getting Ready for Lent at Tommaso Restaurant

Carnevale has been celebrated in Italy since ancient times. Two fun-fueled weeks of music, dancing, debauchery, and general gastronomic excess, it was the perfect way for the faithful to help gear up for the rigors of Lent. Traditionally, it was also time to share in the slaughter of the family pig before a long 40-day fast.

Can't afford a trip to Italy? Modern day celebrants (and those just looking for a good excuse to eat copious amounts of animal product) have been flocking to Tommaso Restaurant in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, for years. Ever since opening his doors in 1973, owner-chef Tommaso Verdillo has greeted the season by dusting off his Pagliacci costume, decking out the dining room with vividly colored balloons and traditional masks, and heading to the kitchen to prepare feasts of the flesh. Locals know--come hungry, come with friends, and don't come looking for vegetables. Don't dally any longer, though--tonight is the last evening of this year's fest.

Proprietor Tommaso Verdillo anticipates a feast of festive proportions.
Proprietor Tommaso Verdillo anticipates a feast of festive proportions.
Sarah Zorn

In line with ancient tradition, The Other White Meat finds its way into most dishes on the menu, from roulades of tender skin braised with cabbage to pork-stuffed rice balls. Even dessert is a carnivore's delight; the creamy chocolate pudding known as sanguinaccio comes thickened with blood (beef, not pork). Just like olden times!

Star of the banquet (and special for Carnevale) is the whole roasted suckling pig, which smiles toothily from its perch of oranges and lettuce. The little porker shares center stage with Verdillo himself, a Juilliard-trained opera singer who regales guests with arias between courses. A little "Finiculi, Finicula" with your antipasti, anyone?

Though periodic bouts of snow have slowed down the foot traffic this season, Verdillo promises the trek is worth it. "At this stage of the game in my life, I don't need people lining up outside the door for mediocre food," he says. "I just want to continue working with the best ingredients. I want be known as having the highest quality Italian food in New York."

Tommaso Ristorante 1464 86th Street, Brooklyn


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