to Victor talk
Junior and Larry Puccetti
intersection of 19th Street and Avenue L. stands a
that has looked the same to me since the 1940s. That
my Grandmother first took me into “Sonny’s Place” for
with meat sauce. I have been happily consuming the
in the ensuing years and can
report there has been no
in how it’s made.
secret (or at least the part of the secret that owner Junior Puccetti
will divulge) is that sugar does not belong in the pasta sauce.
I agree completely with him and find that the sauces on sale in
stores are more sugar than anything else. If you have not had
this dish at Sonny’s, march forward and do so as quickly as you
can. Should you not be a pasta hound, then order the chicken
vegetable soup which Junior makes fresh nearly every day.
Lynda and Jim
Guidry and I were in Sonny’s this past Tuesday for lunch to
take photos and do the oral interview with the Junior and son
this essay. I think most everyone on the Island is familiar
with the “Behave or Be Gone” rule of the house---which does not
permit profanity and the fact that in 1971 there was a foiled
attempt to rob Sonny’s. This robbery attempt could have cost
Junior his life and happily it did not happen that way.
I don’t know
that very many will know the following story which I think is
really about the best I’ve ever heard coming out of 19th
After a long
absence from Galveston, I returned here to live in 1995 and
resumed my visits to Sonny’s Place upon my re-entry into
Galveston. It was necessary for me to reacquaint myself with
many people I had not seen in years and meet a number who had
moved to Galveston while I had been gone. This was becoming a
bit confusing for my weakening brain and I began to be very
cautious about admitting I did or did not know a person I might
see in local watering holes.
I was sitting
at the bar in Sonny’s one fine day and noticed a very attractive
lady standing by the freezer behind the bar where the always
frosty mugs for the tap beer are kept. The lady obviously
worked in the place as she was washing, drying and putting mugs
into the freezer. I was sure I knew her but could not place her
face or come up with a name.
The mistake I
made was to lean over the bar and ask Larry who the
lady was by the freezer. “Oh, we don’t really know who she is.
She just turned up one day and asked for a job and she’s been
here ever since.”
Now, I should
have recalled that Larry is not to be trusted about such things
under any circumstances. I continued to look at the lady and
finally said to her “I know you but I just can’t recall your
name.” The lady replied “It’s okay, Victor, I know you as
well. We went to Ball High together and my name is Melba
Puccetti. I’m Junior’s wife.”
Puccetti had dissolved into fits of laughter behind the bar and
I was just extending my hand to wrap it around his throat as I
said “You &$54#@$, that lady I asked you about is your
mother and furthermore, she and I went to Ball High together.”
replied “Oh, I know, and I went to Ball High School with you.”
I thought, “Aha, I’ve got him now.” I said “Well, you look ugly
enough to have been around in high school with me but the age on
you doesn’t make that possible.”
smugly, Larry told me the truth of the matter and, as much as I
hated doing so, I had to back down once the facts were known.
Seems like Melba and Junior had been going together when Melba
and I were in school. Melba’s mother decided to move from
Galveston and Melba did not want to accompany her. Melba wanted
to finish high school here in Galveston. She and Junior checked
into things with the powers-that-were in the school district at
the time. They learned that if they married and Melba continued
to use her maiden name she could stay in school. Further,
if she became pregnant after her marriage and was not “showing”
that would also be all well and good in those days. Melba and
Junior did marry, Melba did continue to use her maiden name and,
before graduation, Larry was conceived but did not “show.”
Melba, Larry and I did attend Ball High School together. I have
been plotting getting back at Larry for this one but I want to
be sure and make it a really, really good one. We shall see
what the future brings.
Lawrence Puccetti, Jr., known as “Junior”, took over the
popular family-run establishment. Sonny’s became home-away-from-home for
University of Texas medical students though they had to obey the
“no profanity” rule and some of the rowdies were occasionally
ejected for their language. For whatever reason, Thursday
nights were UTMB night at Sonny’s. So great was the affection
of many classes of medical students for Junior that in 1996 two
physicians, who were graduates of UTMB and former denizens of
Sonny’s, established the Junior Puccetti Scholarship Fund at UTMB.
The fund continues to do well and help many medical students.
The Big Gun
Battle of 1971 is commemorated with an inscribed plaque on the
bar near a bullet hole. The episode is well worth recounting and
was well described by Gini Fendler Brown and Max Rizley, Jr. in
their book “Galveston---Lore, Legend & Downright Lies.” With
due credit to the authors I borrow from their text.
In the fall
of 1971, three hijackers probably had the idea that a little
and pop" place would be an easy score. It nearly cost the three
amateurs their lives.
It was a
Friday night. Three men were sitting at the bar and nineteen
other customers were at tables and booths, most listening to a
high school football game on the radio. At about 9:30, three
men walked in … one stood at the door… two confronted Junior at
the bar. Brandishing a .45, one robber ordered, “Give me
all the money!”
easy,” Junior responded as he began emptying the cash register.
All the customers were on the floor as gunman number two
demanded their wallets and purses. Junior said the first guy
swung his pistol around and hit a napkin container on the bar,
accidentally discharging and throwing a slug into the counter.
Pretending to be hit and falling to the floor, Junior’s son
quickly pitched him a .38 revolver from the kitchen. Customer
Edward Connelly, worried that Junior had been hit, stood up and
was whacked over the head with a shotgun barrel. Then the
gunfight ensued. One slug hit the beer spigot---there’s still a
dent in it.
grabbed $125 and fled with Junior in hot pursuit, emptying his
gun at them as they ran down the street. Junior said he’d
always worried about being robbed, although he never had been
before---or since. He said he would have given them the money
but when the gun went off, well…!
My word of
advice to punks of any age from anywhere would be that
Galveston, in general, is really not where you want to be. Try
the big cities if you want to live long enough to enjoy being
sentenced to a really long prison term. Galvestonians don’t take
protecting their families and property lightly.
there is a specialty of the house---gumbo. One may order in two
ways, shrimp alone or shrimp with very small, peeled crawfish
also in the roux and the latter is a particular favorite of
Guidrys and I were stoking up on this past, there was
quite an influx of locals. Bill Levin came in, he being a
former head of the University of Texas Medical Branch. Bill has
been coming to Sonny’s since he was a medical student here.
After Dr. Levin we saw Galveston County Sheriff Gean Leonard,
accompanied by one of his deputies. There were already two
detectives from the Galveston Police Department in the place.
And just for the record, all the law enforcement officers were
in and out of the restaurant before you could say hello. Paula
Glenn, wife of dentist Dr.William Glenn, III and her mother,
Delores were sitting toward the back of the room and a group
living at the Palms on Seawall Boulevard was filling part of a
side dining room and having a lively time of it. The place gave
every sign of getting ready to fill to capacity and we were not
yet well into the noon hour.
muffulettas in evidence around the room. It’s a sandwich that
originated in New Orleans. The key ingredients are crusty
Italian bread and olive salad. Sonny’s are taken a bit
further and layered with ham, salami, mortadella, provolone and
Swiss cheese along with Grandmother Theresa’s olive salad. Most
couples tend to share half of one of these behemoths taking the
other half home for later consumption.
case a customer checking out at the front counter still has a
bit of room left, there is always free candy for the taking.
Really healthy stuff, just like your doctor would want you to
have several of---baby Tootsie Rolls and the like.
And---uh-oh---is that a quarter I see on the floor just in front
of the cash register? Best bend and reach for that before I go.
can’t get to Sonny’s today since it’s Thanksgiving Day and they
are closed. I think I
better have a little something to tide me over until lunch.
I do have some of the chicken vegetable soup in the
freezer, however, and I think I’ll thaw out a mug of that to
hold body and soul together until turkey time.