So says the headline in the Rome daily, Il Messaggero, and it’s a major event for those of us who knew him and his trattoria in what used to be a working-class neighborhood known as Testaccio. Nowadays Testaccio is chic, but somehow the clientele at the trattoria–which we all called “Felice’s” (it didn’t have any sign on or over the door, and the windows were frosted, so you couldn’t see in, so either you knew it was there or you didn’t)–stayed the same. Its seven or eight tables were always full, the place was bursting with noise, he ran every aspect of it, and the food was unbelievably wonderful. Simple Roman food. Lots of it. And still you couldn’t get enough of it.
Felice bought the food, cooked it, served it, washed the plates and cleaned up the place. It was one of the most famous places in a city full of legends, and one constantly heard stories about Felice telling rich and powerful people that they couldn’t eat there, because all the tables were reserved for the rest of the year. If he knew you, and liked you, it was easy. If he didn’t, or he didn’t, it was impossible. He was a Communist, and kept his prices low, so there were plenty of workers in there, along with poor kids made good, like the actor Roberto Benigni.
The two plates for which he will long be remembered were the tonnarelli (fresh pasta) con caccio e’ pepe (with a salty grated cheese and fresh grated black pepper), and the marinated artichokes, carciofi alla romana. To die for.
Felice was a quiet man, but if you ordered something he didn’t approve, he’d let you know. And heaven help anyone who left anything on the plate. He wouldn’t have you back.
He lived almost 89 years, which is a lot for his generation, and Benigni once wrote a poem about him, according to which he’d be greeted by Jesus at the gates of heaven, and begged to cook a plate of caccio e’ pepe. One more time. Because it really was divine. Always.