The Best Veal Parmigiana in the World

New Bedford's favorite boxer is indisputably Jimmy Connors. He boxed professionally for seven or eight years and compiled a pretty good record. He won 29 of his 38 fights, 16 by KO, and he had one draw. Unlike most boxers, Jimmy saved his winnings and went from the ring to the restaurant business. First he bought a diner; then he sold that and bought a tavern.

He went on to found several bar-restaurants, most notably Jimmy Connors' Irish Pub One hot summer day, I saw a couple, obviously tourists, standing on the sidewalk in front of that pub and looking up at the sign. As I approached them, the man said, "Excuse me … is that Jimmy Connors the tennis player?"

"No," I replied, "it's Jimmy Connors the boxer."

When I was a few feet past them, I overheard the guy say to his wife, "I still say he was a tennis player."

I told Jimmy about that a day or two later and he grimaced. "He sure as hell doesn't know me," Jimmy said. "Tennis is a ___ sport." He used an adjective implying that every male tennis player in the world is a devotee of the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.

I used to run into Jimmy every so often, and he always had a story. Sometimes it was an old story and sometimes it was a new story, in the sense that I haven't heard it before, but it didn't matter. Jimmy's stories were so good and he told them so well that I was happy to hear any of them any number of times.

Jimmy's best story, I think, was about Breezy Amaral and the Best Veal Parmigiana in the World. I only hope I can tell it one-tenth as well as Jimmy did.

Breezy Amaral was a character who hung out mostly on the waterfront, but occasionally he found his way up the street to various watering holes. He was not a fish lumper or a fisherman; not even a skipper or a boat owner. It's probably best not to inquire too deeply into how he made a living; the word was that he was "connected," which is what TV and movie cops said before they started saying "mobbed up."

Breezy once dove into New Bedford Harbor to save someone from drowning and was awarded a Carnegie Medal for his heroism. It's a pity Damon Runyon never wrote that story, because Breezy would have fit into Runyonland, right next to Brandy Bottle Bates and Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

Breezy was known for his broad-brimmed purple hat and matching cane, which, it was said, contained a knife. Or perhaps even a sword. He usually had a big cigar between his lips or his fingers and he drove a shiny black Lincoln Town car that bore the license plate "LEGEND."

One time, Breezy went with Jimmy and Jimmy's father to New York City to see a boxing match. All the way down, Breezy talked about this Italian restaurant he was going to take them to. "Best Italian restaurant in the world," he assured them. "Best veal Parmigiana in the world. Better than you can get in Boston or Chicago or San Francisco or even anywhere in Italy."

Jimmy and his dad took it with a grain of salt, since Breezy was known on occasion to elevate his lingo more than somewhat.

But they were impressed when they walked into the restaurant. It was a big, lavish place, and the maître d' came scurrying over, no doubt rubbing his hands together like Uriah Heep as he effused, "Welcome, Mr. Amaral. It's been too long since we last saw you. But your usual table is available."

They were led to a table that was perfectly fine, Jimmy Connors thought, but he reflected that it didn't seem so very different from any of the many other tables in the place.

As they studied their menus, Breezy began singing the praises of the veal Parmigiana again. "Best in the world! Melts in your mouth! You've gotta try it!"

Jimmy shook his head. "I never had veal and I don't know what it tastes like. What if I don't like it? What do I do then? I'm hungry. I'm gonna have spaghetti and meatballs."

Jimmy's dad nodded and said he'd also have the spaghetti and meatballs.

"Shanty Irish!" Breezy exclaimed. "You got no taste at all. How can you pass up the best veal Parmigiana in the world?"

When the food arrived, Jimmy and his dad dug in. Breezy cut off a big chunk of his meal, popped it into his mouth, chewed and swallowed it ostentatiously, and smacked his lips. "Melts in your mouth," he said, even though he had spent several seconds chewing it.

He cut off a smaller piece and held it out to Jimmy on his fork. "Come on," he said, "you just gotta try a bite at least. Find out what veal Parmigiana tastes like."

Reluctantly, Jimmy took the bite and tasted it. "Tastes just like chicken to me," he said.

"You Shanty Irishman!" Breezy exploded. "No taste at all. Can't tell the difference between chicken and veal!"

Just then, the waiter came rushing over with another plate. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Amaral," he said. "The kitchen gave me the chicken Parmigiana by mistake. Here's your veal."

Jimmy and his dad just grinned. Nothing needed to be said.

Game, set, and match to Jimmy Connors. The boxer, not the tennis player.

Next: For the first time, Harry Brehme brings a deer home from his hunting trip.
The Weaponless Hunter