That's Italian!

Lunching New York-style with "Pattie Ragú"

"This is as close as you'll find to an Italian deli in New York out here."

Gesturing to glass cases gloriously piled full of dried sausages, Italian salads, Italian desserts, Italian everything, Patrick Lubrano says, "You can't find stuff like this out here. I brought my mother-in-law in here, and she spent $300. It's the closest to home I'm going to find."

He looks and sounds just like the speaker of these words should. A burly Italian-American man with a shaved pate and a graying mustache, his voice is hoarse, thickly accented to his native Brooklyn. He might have stepped, whole and breathing, out of a Martin Scorsese movie.

But this isn't Brooklyn. Lubrano moved to Arizona a couple of years ago, and now works in security at America West Arena.

He has met me for lunch at DeFalco's Grocery and Deli, a bountiful Italian-food emporium that resides unobtrusively in the Arizona Design Center at 68th Street and Thomas in Scottsdale. It's his choice for the authentic good stuff here in the Valley.

I order what he does -- a sub with prosciutto, mozzarella and roasted red peppers. He suggests we split a mushroom salad, but the clerk of the busy deli informs us that they're out, so we settle for a Greek salad. We sit down to wait for it, and Lubrano the Brooklyn expatriate tells me his stories.

While he's never been in a Scorsese film, he does indeed have a show-business background. If you were born in this country before, say, 1968, you've seen him, though you certainly wouldn't recognize him now. One of five sons of a longshoreman father and a mother who worked for St. Vincent's Home for Retarded Children, Lubrano was a successful veteran actor before he was a teenager.

"In 1972, I got an interview for a commercial, and my dad was the kind of person, he brought the whole neighborhood on this interview. He wanted one of us to get it. It didn't matter who, but one of these Italian kids was going to get the part in this commercial! He was very forceful. He knew somebody who worked for an agency, and happened to mention they were casting. A good friend of mine, Phillip Russo, I grew up with him, he was the stand-in, just in case I got sick. But I got the part, I guess by luck."

Lubrano played the cute, wide-eyed son in the Ragú spaghetti sauce commercial whose skeptical father is won over when he tastes the sauce from a jar and declares, "That's Italian!" After the ad aired, Lubrano claims, he was forever known in the streets of Red Hook as "Pattie Ragú."

Lubrano recalls the shoot. "They brought me to a remote house in Paterson, New Jersey, and we filmed for 15 hours. I was never so sick of spaghetti as I was at the end of that day. We did 150 takes, because the guy who was doing the commercial as my dad couldn't just say, 'That's Italian.' He'd go, 'That's Eye-talian!' 'That's Ee-talian!' Overacting, or whatever."

Our food arrives, and it's excellent. The sandwiches are sublime -- wonderfully dry, ungreasy prosciutto and astringent peppers offset by moist, fresh, water-soaked mozzarella. Lubrano gives a told-you-so nod when he sees my reaction to it. "I didn't get this size for nothing," he says.

We eat, and he continues the saga of Pattie Ragú. "I got an agent and a manager, and then you have to join Screen Actors Guild, and I would go on these interviews monthly, with my mother. We'd take the M Train into Manhattan, and take two, three trains sometimes to get to some agency where I had a casting call."

Lubrano found plenty of work. "I did commercials for Peppermint Patties candy, Contact Junior, Kodak, Chemical Bank, and one for Gift America. Then a real good one was Arrid Solid Stick-Ups."

The money he made wasn't a luxury. His father had been sick since Lubrano was 6, so the money often helped his mother keep the house afloat as she raised five boys almost on her own. Both of Lubrano's parents were dead by the time he was 18. By then, he had long since drifted out of acting -- he was past kid roles, and his parents' illnesses necessitated a steady income -- and school. "I left after the eighth grade. By the time I was 14, I was driving a Pepsi truck in East New York." (He later got a GED, however, and since moving to the Valley has completed a year, part-time, at Mesa Community College.)

He wound up back in show business, though not on the performing side, working as a stage hand at the Metropolitan Opera. "I met Domingo and Pavarotti and Beverly Sills, you know, standing right next to them."

His favorite memory of the Met is of the day when "I saw a man walking down the hallway and I said, 'God, he looks familiar.' It was Dom DeLuise. He was playing a small part of the jailkeeper in Fledermaus. And his leg was hurting at the time, so my boss said, 'Pat, why don't you go walk with him, and help him around a little bit?' And we started talking about Italian food. He says, 'Ah, I can't find any decent food here in Manhattan.' I said, 'I'll tell you what. I'll have my brother cook for you. My brother and I will come back here before you go on and have dinner.' And he agreed!"

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