Emil Messina Long-Time Oak Park Arms Barber Has Retired

Emil Messina, my barber of many years, told me in the video that he’d work until “the day comes.” Today, I found out, that day came. Some family health emergency, I was told, and then he retired. That’s all anyone at the Oak Park Arms could tell me when I called for an appointment this morning. The front desk said a new barber would be taking over this coming Sunday.

Emil worked at the Palmer House (“the world’s biggest barber shop, 100 chairs”) before he moved into a shop in the Oak Park Arms. He had cut the hair of Liberace, Jack Benny, Tony “Doves” Aiuppa, Murray “Camelback” Humphreys, and me. During haircuts, we’d share our casual philosophies about gardening, marriage, and food, always food. Just two old Italian guys talking about things that were important to them, and being Italians, that was usually food.

One the first pieces I wrote for Wednesday Journal when I started in 2011 was about conversations with Emil about neck bones:

My barber, Emil Messina of the Oak Park Arms, is a fellow Italian-American and he told me that his wife frequently uses neck bones for sauce. “I can always tell if she didn’t use neck bones for the gravy,” Emil explained to me, “so I ask her, ‘Did you put neck bones in here,’ and if she says “I didn’t have any,” I say ‘Why the heck didn’t you tell me? I would have picked some up!'”

Neck bones provide the sauce with both flavor and body. Given the relatively high collagen in animal joints, the bones of the neck – much like the bones of the feet and back – help thicken the sauce and provide texture and mouthfeel.

Emil tells me that at holiday dinners at his house, his grandchildren always eat the neck bones first – “They love ’em,” he said, adding “there’s a lot more meat on them than you might think.”

Lots of times, we’d talk about the food he had growing in Italy, about what his mom used to make, how his dad made wine in their basement, what food he liked as a kid. Once, after I got back from a trip to Italy I mentioned to Emil that I had eaten snails in his homeland. I asked him if he liked them. I think he actually got a little misty, and there was a catch in his throat when he said, “I love ’em. Love ’em.” He used to hunt for them as a kid. Read more ->

By David Hammond – March 31, 2017
Wednesday Journal – OakPark.com