As soon as I turn the car onto Craig Street, it greets my nostrils. It is undeniable. It is pacifying. It is the aroma of rich, delicious homemade fare – spaghetti, roasted chicken, sausages and meatballs the size of golf balls – wafting from Copper Cliff’s Italian Club. The kitchen doors are open on this fiery July day, the scents intoxicating the street’s residents. My knees go weak. I have come to photograph Little Italy and this is my first stop. I fear I may not make it any further.
Josie Apolloni, 75, watches over the beehive of a kitchen. The head chef is a diminutive lady who can barely see over the tops of some of the massive cooking pots, but she keeps vigil beside the meatballs and homemade sauce.
“(The recipe) comes from my roots, from Italy, from Fano,” Apolloni says, pointing to her knee when I ask about Fano’s location. The recipe, which dates back to 1935, is a heavily-guarded secret and Apolloni will only disclose that she uses canola oil rather than lard, which is more traditional.
The day I visit, there are three cooks and about a dozen volunteers scurrying about in preparation for the lunch rush – the Club serves a weekly Friday buffet that brings in admirers from all corners of the city. There is a lot of laughter in this kitchen, with jokes being tossed back and forth like a ping-pong ball.
The Italian Club, 77 years young this year, is a memory-keeper for those who grew up in the area, and a bridge for newer arrivals, including Randy DeSanti, who has chosen to retire in Sudbury, where he grew up, after spending more than 35 years living in Toronto and Montreal. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets sweaty in this anything-but-Hell’s kitchen.
“We grew up in Little Italy – our parents and grandfathers built the club,” DeSanti says. “And so now we’re all retired and we’re back here at the club, giving back to it. … It keeps the tradition going.”
A hub for family, conversation and gathering – a place to quiet the noises of modern life, DeSanti says – the Italian Club is open to all ethnicities.
“The Club was a melting pot for society, and now we find ourselves opening up to individuals from across the Sudbury basin,” he says. “They come here to have their weddings and parties. … We’re very busy right now. Things are going very well for the Club right now. That’s a result of a lot of dedication from our volunteers.”
Lynn and John Sabourin, who live in New Sudbury, have been coming for lunch regularly for the past eight years. The company and camaraderie mean just as much as the delicious meal. “It’s a fun place to be,” John says.
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