Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Vesuvio part 1

I'm not quite sure yet what the title of my new print will be, but I do know the subject- Vesuvio, an Italian restaurant that existed in Belmar for a very long time.  This can be considered part of the series that resulted in my Circus Drive In print last year, in that both places were around for decades, were shore area landmarks that served food, and now are gone.

Vesuvio was located on 10th Ave, between the railroad tracks and Main (or F Street for the old timers), a business that seemed trapped in time.  The chairs and banquettes were all done in turquoise vinyl.  The menu they let me take home for calling in orders mentioned being open for over 60 years, but I don't know how old that menu was, however it's safe to say that the place was around as far back as at least the 40's.  That 21st century menu included a dish just called Three Meatballs and French Fries.  A hand painted sign asked people not to run in the "dinning room".   No liquor license, so it was BYOB and many people did.

If you looked it up on the restaurant review websites, the two most common themes were that the wait staff was rude and that the pizza was great.  As for the former, I never had that experience, so I don't know if that was a lie or if I was just there on the right days.  As for the latter, I have to agree absolutely, some of the best pizza to be had in the region and I've eaten a lot of them. A classic Jersey shore pizza, not too thick, and not too thin, brick oven baked, sometimes overbaked whether you wanted it that way or not, but I don't object to that.  The other classic dish was their salad, the star being what they called "Our Famous Jim Salad" a very large antipasto type salad, which contained the typical lettuce, tomato, onion, but also bits of carrots, cold canned green beans (!), lots of thinly sliced cheese and salami, a generous helping of grated cheese, and very doused in their vinaigrette.  (my brother has been trying to duplicate it for years, and I think he is close) They would give you a large bowl of it and plates to dish it out, and you could easily feed four people, with all getting seconds and leaving some leftover.  Still not sure who Jim was, but a salad and a pizza made for a good meal.

Owned by one family the whole time.  Often an old woman at the counter- stiff, silent, looked to be about 150 years old.  They typically closed for an extended vacation in winter (might make sense in a beach town), but after one a few years ago they never reopened.  For over a year it was closed.  Then another famous pizza place from the other side of the county took it over and made it their eastern location.  Brought in their style of pizza, but kept a version of the Jim Salad on the menu, though they also redid the dining room, putting in large wooden booths, and a muted brown decor.  I find it lacking.

On a day in 2016, I stopped by in late afternoon on my way home from the Studio to pick up a pie to take home, probably a large "Vesuvio Around the World Special", which included sausage, peppers, and mushrooms, and under $10.  During typical meal hours the place would be quite full, but at that time it was still empty, the only other person present a teenage girl at the counter.   I asked for and received permission to take a few photos of the dining room for artistic reference, as long a I agreed not to post them to a restaurant review site, which I never did.  But the place no longer exists, and hasn't for years, so I figure it's now safe to show them here.

Once the restaurant had closed, it was inevitable that I would eventually use my references to depict it, and now seems the time.  Yesterday I cut a hunk of birch to the size I wanted and today I began the block drawing.  Based it on the first photo, but reduced the number of tables, and I'm not worried yet about getting the tables and chairs perfect, as I plan to insert figures all around the piece.  (not as crowded as a typical meal crowd, but not as empty as when I took the photos)  And of course there will be some pizzas and salads around.  I had brought with me today a print out of the top photo, but some details were missing (may need to get a new color cartridge for my printer), so I brought the block home, so I could copy the digital photo.  The first day's block sketch can be seen below.

Once I work out the locations of the furniture and figures and some of the rest of the room, I plan to go in with brush and ink as I do on the large figure prints, before I start cutting, to give the piece a more painterly quality.  I figure that will work better with the bold colors of the location, which I plan to duplicate.  This will be a long process, but you have to start somewhere.  For music today, I went with something that seemed appropriate, volume 1 of my Springsteen set, which is heavy on the early Jersey Shore stuff.  If you want to know more, you can read about it on this blog last fall.

By the way, this place has nothing to do with my friend Dave's favorite bar in San Fransisco, which he took me to when I visited him there in early 1991.  That place, also called Vesuvio, was a very large bar, once upon a time favored by the Beats. We sat in a booth up on the 2nd floor balcony.  The John Wilkes Memorial Booth was already taken, so we had to settle for the Booth for Lady Psychiatrists, whatever that means.  (psychiatrists who work with ladies, or who are ladies, I didn't know)  What I did know was the sound system was playing Robert Cray's newest album, and Dave's favorite bartender was sending us free shots of Benedictine, an unusual beverage to say the least, and a change of pace from the Anchor Steam Beers we were enjoying.  A very nice evening.


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