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  • I stepped out of the cab and in front of me is the place Michael couldn't stop raving about for the past month, Joe's of Avenue U. I looked up at the old, yellowed block letters of the sign and without an extra second to acknowledge that we finally made it here after a 45 minute drive from Harlem, he hurriedly escorted my mom and I inside the restaurant where our we met his father, Pete, and step mother, Cindy, who were eagerly awaiting our tardy arrival.

    We exchanged greetings and quickly dove into the food selection for the night. My eyes scanned the page and abruptly stopped under the "Meat" section. Veal Rollatini Involtini cchi Patati Fritti. Given the first eight letters were "veal" and "roll", I quickly locked my choice with a reckless determination that any animal lover or PETA advocate would cringe at. The rest of the menu was an expansive list of Sicilian dishes that put to shame the Italiamerican cuisine I've been brought up on.

    Purpu a nZalata
    Funghi Ripieni
    Sardi a Beccafico
    Cacocciuli Stufati
    Scallope al Marsala
    Pasta cchi Sardi
    Linguini a Piscatura

    Each name kept distancing itself from all that I knew was Italian food. Even further, I was told this is not Italian. This was Sicilian food, and it was the best around.

    We were brought here by Pete who grew up in the neighborhood not far from the restaurant. He told stories of his days as a young boy frequenting the restaurant with family and how important food was among the DiGiacinto clan. As he talked, I tried picturing what it was like to grow up going to a place like this. From the colorful marionettes hanging from the shelves to the mural of a quaint village along a hillside, the restaurant showcased a rich (like their food) heritage that made you feel at home. For my mom and I, this was more than a Silician dining treat; this was a cultural lesson in what it meant to grow up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and was a lens into another time and place through food.

    As the octopus tentacles and stuffed mushrooms were shoveled onto my plate, all I could think about was this new family I was becoming a part of and the exposure to an amazing, new culture I was getting to experience. There was one moment when I reached across the table for the Cacocciuli Stufati (stuffed artichoke) and my hand met Pete's at the dish. Without saying a word, we smiled and as we both tore away leaves I got a glimpse of the warm heart that was slowly opening up to me.
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