Joe Scognamillo (right) runs Patsy’s with son Sal.
Photo by Jules Peimer
OLE BLUE EYES’ FAVORITE
Sal Serves Superb Stuff
Spiced with Sinatra Spirit
By JULES PEIMER
HENEVER Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, including Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, were in New York, they’d hang out at the legendary Patsy’s on Midtown’s west side. They amused themselves to no end in the private dining room upstairs at this outstanding Italian family-owned restaurant.
Frank and Sammy would try to outdo each other. Frank sang. Sammy would imitate him. Then Frank would copy Sammy.
Once, when all this was going on, Sammy suddenly started to laugh. He took out his glass eye and said, “Frank, let me see you top this!”
The man who related this story to me, Joe Scognamillo, knew Ole Blue Eyes better than most other people. Joe has been working at the restaurant all his life. His father, Pasquale (known as Patsy), who founded the establishment in 1944, had his son working in the kitchen since he was seven.
“Since Patsy’s beginning,” Joe said, “we’ve had only three chefs. My father was the first. I became second, and several years ago my son Sal became third.”
Joe was nine when he first met America’s most famous crooner, who was at the time working with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra at the Paramount Theater.
“Those guys were doing six shows a day and never had time to leave the theater,” Joe said.
“My father sent me backstage with macaroni soup, lentil soup and an assortment of pastas. Sinatra thanked me and said, ‘Who is that kid?’ I told him I was Patsy’s son, and over the years we became best of friends.”
Not too many people know all the charitable things Sinatra did. He established the Sinatra Foundation through which he helped countless people.
“I remember sitting with him and his employee, Henry Jenei. We were going over the many letters he got from people asking for help. He would ask us what we thought. We would answer yes or no.
“I remember vividly one letter. It was just before Christmas, and it was from a woman terminally ill with cancer. She wanted to have a last Christmas party with her children.
“Frank said, ‘What do you think, Joey?’ I said yes. “As I’m telling you this, the hair on my back is standing up.
“He then told Henry to send her all kinds of food – steak and anything else you could think of. Also give her $500. He thought a moment and said, ‘Buy her a new refrigerator to put it in.’
“He was always helping. I could go on telling you stories just from the letters alone.”
Joey is working with the Sinatra family to erect a statue of Frank in Times Square, across the old Paramount Theater.
“We have many celebrities working on it, such as Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney. Tony is doing a portrait of Sinatra which we will auction off to raise money for the statue.”
Meantime Joe is writing a book about Patsy’s titled My Father’s Kitchen. It will be a family history plus anecdotes of the many celebrities that have passed through the restaurant, such as Enrico Caruso and Xavier Cugat. Daughter Nancy Sinatra will write the forward.
“The book will include the favorite recipes of the stars,” Joe said.