Chef Sal Scognamillo of Patsy’s cooks up some memories of the Chairman of the Board for Ocean County Library fundraiser
Sal Scognamillo, executive chef and co-owner of Patsy’s Italian Restaurant in New York and at the Atlantic City Hilton, grew up in the family business. This included cooking for celebrities, in particular a superstar from Hoboken, N.J., who was first brought to the Patsy’s in New York by the Dorsey Brothers. That superstar was Frank Sinatra, and Patsy’s became renowned as the Chairman of the Board’s favorite restaurant.
The Scognamillo family has paid tribute to their best customer over the years with special events, and Chef Sal will be dong just that this Friday, May 13, when he participates in the Ocean County Library Foundation’s “At the Chairman’s Table ...” fundraiser event. The event, benefiting the library system, will take place at 7pm, featuring the music of Frank Sinatra and his favorite dishes from Patsy’s. Scognamillo will lead the course introductions and provide stories about his family’s favorite customer.
In a phone interview from Patsy’s in New York, Chef Sal talks to Atlantic City Weekly about his family’s special relationship with the Sinatra family and provides his own favorite Sinatra story.
Chef Sal says that it was a friend of his from the Ocean County Library who put together a similar event two years ago and decided to do it again. “I was so proud to tell some stories of the relationship we had with Sinatra, from my grandparents to me and even my children meeting his children, Frank Jr. and Nancy,” says Scognamillo.
“It’s a wonderful night to remember him. I’ll be telling stories about how my grandfather (Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo) met him, how he stayed with us throughout the years and how his family still continues to be a part of our lives. Everyone will be getting a cookbook and a jar of Pasty’s sauce as part of the admission to the event. You have the food, you have the singing, and you have the dancing. It will be a wonderful night.”
So what were Sinatra’s favorites? “He liked almost everything on the menu, but he loved the stuffed artichokes. He liked anything with whole garlic. You get the flavor and then you take out the garlic before serving. He liked the arugula salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, very simple, and the fusilli pasta with the tomato basil sauce with onions and prosciutto. For a main course he liked the Veal Cutlet Milanese, veal pounded paper thin with flour, egg and breadcrumbs, sautéed until it was crisp.
“Dessert was very traditional. He liked ricotta cheesecake, cannoli, and pasticiotto.” The latter is a pastry filled with a lemon cream, and is served free to Pasty’s New York customers every year on Sinatra’s birthday, Dec. 12.
Asked about his personal favorite Sinatra encounter, Chef Sal talks about the first time he cooked for him. “I was 21 and in the kitchen upstairs. My father took him to the table. My father was in a suit, and Sinatra says, ‘Joe, why are you in a suit? You have to go in the kitchen and cook for me.’ My dad says, ‘No, no. My son Sal, he took over in the kitchen.’ The kitchen door opens and Sinatra is there. I asked him how I could help him and hoped he would enjoy everything. He said, ‘I will as long as you cook as well as your dad.’ We had a laugh. In retrospect, he was just trying to make me feel comfortable. He probably knew I was quaking in my boots.”
As for his Atlantic City operation, Chef Sal tries to check in every other month, and his parents also take turns making sure the quality is being maintained at the Hilton Patsy’s. “We have a great crew down there. Customers from here who travel there say, ‘You’re lucky. You have good people. They take care of us.’”
Sinatra isn’t the only celebrity who has been a regular at Patsy’s. Tony Bennett, Carroll O’Connor, Bono, Rush Limbaugh, Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Sean Combs, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Keanu Reeves, Robert De Niro and Don Rickles have all dined there.
“My personal favorite was Rosemary Clooney,” says Chef Sal. “She was a sweetheart. I used to call her Aunt Rosemary. She was so kind to our family. She brought her nephew George Clooney to the restaurant. Michael Bublè has been a regular customer and so has Ben Stiller.” (His parents Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara are regulars, too).
As for celebrities that have dined at the Atlantic City Hilton Patsy’s: “Debbie Reynolds has been there quite a lot and Frank Sinatra Jr. had a concert at the Hilton that coincided with our opening. Joan Rivers has dined there and Tony Orlando is planning to stop by when he’s in town (this weekend, May 14).”
The third anniversary of Patsy’s Atlantic City is coming up this June and Sal says he is planning something to celebrate the occasion. “We’ve been discussing that and we’re going to try and do some kind of party for the third anniversary because thank God, even with the tough times we are still hanging in there.”
“I was interviewed recently [in another market] and the reporter asked me where was my favorite place to play, and I immediately said Atlantic City,” Orlando says.
Backed by the big-band tracks of a 40-piece orchestra, Tomasello, who’s all of 19, is singing the songs of Frank Sinatra. What’s more, he’s channeling the music of Ol’ Blue Eyes on the same Atlantic City casino stage where Sinatra performed more than 30 years ago.
Patsy’s Italian Restaurant at the Atlantic City Hilton will host a book party for Sal Scognamillo, head chef and co-owner of Patsy’s Atlantic City and the original Patsy’s in New York City, Frank Sinatra’s favorite Italian restaurant.
On Monday, Dec. 13, Patsy’s at the Atlantic City Hilton, will pay tribute to the mothership’s number-one customer by offering his favorite dishes in celebration of what would have been Ol’ Blue Eyes’ 95th birthday.
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