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Rhonda foresees her bus route growing longer as destinations pop up farther and farther ahead. "I know eventually it will go further south," she says as she deposits a passenger in the grass by Newcomer's cemetery as the sun dips low behind the cross-studded hill. -- Nadia Pflaum
The Villa Capri
It's the dinner rush at the Villa Capri, and tall Steve Scudiero is apologizing to customers coming in. "Just wait a minute so we can clean off a table for you," he says. There's only one waitress tonight, the 10-year veteran Renee, who runs back and forth from the kitchen with clenched teeth. Right now, two people are waiting for a table and another two are waiting to collect their carry-out orders.
"You know how hard it is to get waitresses to work in Johnson County," Scudiero complains to one of the carry-out customers. "They all want Fridays and Saturdays off."
Eight tables are full in the long, narrow dining room -- including a noisy ten-top -- and another eight need to be cleared. One of the men waiting for a table comes out of the bathroom and whispers to his friend, "Christ, what's taking so damn long? Does he want us to bus the tables ourselves?"
The friend offers to pitch in and help, but Scudiero only laughs, then escorts the men to one of the less cluttered tables, which he wipes off with a damp cloth.
No one really stands on ceremony at Villa Capri, which has so many regular customers that it's really more clubhouse than restaurant. It's the type of establishment where customers feel comfortable lighting up a cigarette in the middle of dinner and strangers turn away from their dining companions to talk to the folks at the next table. When the toddler at the ten-top starts screeching, her young-looking grandmother turns around, exhales a puff of cigarette smoke and asks the couple behind her, "Aren't kids in restaurants great?"
Actually, the Villa Capri has been a family-friendly scene for 43 years. Scudiero's 73-year-old father, Tony, owns the place; he says customers come in carrying babies, point at the restaurant's high chair and tell him, "I used to sit in that chair, remember?" Tony does remember. After all, the Villa Capri is probably the oldest restaurant in Johnson County. It is unquestionably the longest-running dining room on Metcalf.
"A few people come in and order the fried chicken, but mostly they want pasta," Tony says. "They like our red sauce." It's the classic 1950s sugo: not too spicy, not too thick, not too sweet. Tony's food seems unsophisticated compared with some of his Metcalf neighbors, such as Il Trullo over at 90th, the Macaroni Grill at 92nd or even Carrabba's Italian Grill at 105th. But it's a lot cheaper, and no one ever complains about the portions.
Tony can remember when there weren't any businesses south of 87th Street. "King Louie, that was it. There was a little taxi shack over where Metcalf Shopping Center is now." Tony's culinary competition was a lot simpler in those days, too. "There was a Shakey's Pizza, but it didn't last." -- Charles Ferruzza
Raoul's Velvet Room
Rosana Square, 119th and Metcalf
"Try this," urges Louis, my dining partner for the night. "I don't know what it is, but it's squishy." His fingers lightly trace my face, searching for my mouth, and once he finds it, he feeds me a dense, bite-sized orange cake, his fingers lingering on my lips.