When I was a teen into my early 20s I, debatably, made the best espresso in Boston behind the counter at the long-defunct Café Roma in the North End. I learned how to use just enough coffee to create the creamy top; the difference between lungo and corto, and I can still fashion a fantastic tiramisù because of my years on Hanover Street. Café Roma is long gone, now part of the structure that is the fabulous Bricco. But my favorite customers then are among those who have stayed and kept the Italian spirit in the North End alive.One of them is Maurizio Badolato, who would come in every day for coffee before going to pull long, hard hours as a waiter. He would sit down in the Roma, nod silently as a way to order his coffee, and set up a pile of scratch tickets in front of him. Always he would tip his head back and shut his eyes to drink the corto cafe as if it was a magic elixir, then the scratching would begin.
Maybe my coffee was magic. More likely, Maurizio was just fortunato because of the keychain his mother gave him that read: “Miracles Do Happen.”
One of Maurizio’s scratch tickets, bought at my favorite corner store, the appropriately-named Connah on Hanover Street, was a winner. A one-million-dollar winner.
Maurizio called his mother first. She cried. He toyed with the idea of returning to his native Calabria to live on the beach and drink espresso all day while his winnings lasted. But luckily for those of us who love his meatballs, he opened Limoncello instead right on the Freedom Trail.
“It’s always my dream,” Maurizio tells me over lunch recently.
But a million dollars these days doesn’t last long, especially in the restaurant business. A decade later, Maurizio has a wildly successfully eatery but he works as hard in it as he did when he arrived in Boston from Italy at 15 years old and became a busboy who worked his way up to a waiter’s gig.
“Work, work, work, that’s it. More for me now than before,” Maurizio says with a sigh.
Still, it’s clear that without his restaurant, Maurizio’s animated debates and stories of celebrities who trek off the North End’s beaten track to eat with him would wither. So would he. He says his mother is kept alive by the restaurant, but anyone who sees him light up talking about his food knows that Maurizio is, too.
“We are here to make people happy,” he says. Besides, without Limoncello Maurizio would be without a place to eat himself because his mother does most of her cooking there. “I would never eat a meatball unless my mother made it.”
For more on Ristorante Limoncello, visit their website: ristorantelimoncello.com.