Monday, June 17, 2024

Meet the Sicilian godmother of Long Beach, feeding us one arancini and cannoli at a time

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She calls herself the Godmother of Long Beach, a Palermo-born mother who has decided post-divorce to do one pretty wild endeavor: Park herself at the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Bennett Avenue every Thursday through Sunday, pop up a tent, set up a frier and stovetop, and serve up massive balls of arancini, stuffed-to-order cannolis, slices of pistachio cream cake and tiramisu, and bowls of penne alla vodka and beef ragú.

So who is this Godmother of Long Beach and where does her story of resilience begin?

To begin with Giuseppina Scorsone is to begin with Sicily, where a mixture of trauma, resilience, and nostalgia existed long before she arrived here in Long Beach. The memory of Giuseppina’s home island during childhood brings with it an amalgamation of pain and love: An absuive father, consistently dismissive of the women in his family, would always be fed first—and it was during these rather dark moments where her appreciation of food, like many kids, came from her mother.

“I started cooking when I was eight because I wanted to help my mama,” Giuseppina said. “My mama, she had to serve everybody at the table—besides herself. She would serve this asshole, my dad, and everyone who was there, and she was the last to sit at the table and eat. And that pissed me off.”

Noticing her mother, eating alone at the table before having to head back into the kitchen to cook, Giuseppina would be what she calls a “sneaky sneak sneak” and peruse the kitchen, creating new plates out of what would be future leftovers.

“My plates would look like shit but I would bring the plate to my mother and sisters, and they would say, ‘What is this? What did you do?'” Giuseppina said. “And I said, ‘I mixed this and that,’ and when they would taste it, they fell in love. That’s when it started.”

Her role then expanded with age: Tapping into the restaurant-rich culture of Sicily, she would bounce between seafood restaurants and bakeries and cafes, developing a culinary pedigree where she would constantly have work on the island. It was soon after she began exploring the world after leaving Sicily, leading her to Long Beach and many other places.

Upon arriving Long Beach in 1999—with traipses to the U.K. and Belfast in between—Giuseppina jumped around: Naples, then Livingston Drive, now Zaferia. Working for the Torrance Unified School District during her second bout in Long Beach, she fell into a deep depression after she quit smoking, got a divorce, and discovered a cancerous lump in her throat—something she casually but frankly notes, “They did a good job removing it; just look here. See? Just that little scar.”

“My boss treated me so kindly when he thought I was going to die,” Giuseppina said, chuckling sardonically. “Then when I had the good news that I wasn’t going to die, he began to treat me like shit. So I said, ‘Fuck you all, I am out of here.’ Bought a Prius and began working for Lyft and Uber.”

Little did she know this humble job would point her toward one very delicious direction.

The Godmother of Long Beach: ‘If I don’t sell my food on the streets now, I never will have the chance again’

Throughout the pandemic, Giuseppina met an array of people that would have otherwise been faceless: Constant interaction paired with her gregarious nature proved fruitful, bringing her stories of how people were creating things, finding new careers, and owning their own talents—and when rideshare companies began taking more and more from their drivers, she had, in her words, “another Fuck You Moment: I am out. I am listening to the people I drove around and I am going to sell my food on the streets. If I don’t d I it, I never will.”

Her setup is an efficient one, one birthed out of some mistakes well-learned—one time, her tent blew away, prompting the purchase of sandbags and weights, along with fabric walls to prevent sand from penetrating her portable kitchen—and a shifting of locations—while her location, Ocean and Bennett, may seem odd, it has proved far more fruitful than her first location at Bixby Park, which intuitively sounds like a more prosperous space.

“I would return home with sheets of food,” Giuseppina said of her Bixby Park location. “But here? There’s a neighborhood that just wants to have what I offer. They’ve become a family, really—you know, my customers are no longer just customers.”

And in that she is right: Customers have been handed the keys to her apartment because she forget a tub of sauce only to return back with it. Customers have been a reliable, regular source of both income and friendship. Customers have adopted Giuseppina into the neighborhood as one of their own.

And in that, they are right to do so: Her arancini are the things of wonder; massive, almost baseball-sized risotto balls stuffed with beef ragú or béchamel and ham or pistachios and cream. Shaped to their ingredients—some are perfect balls, some pyramid-like, others oval-shaped—they come from a cooler to be deep-fried until their crust crisps to a crunchy outer shell.

Too hot to immediately handle, they join her other masterful creations that vary weekend to weekend: A nearly perfect tiramisu, likely the lightest in the city. Multi-layered pistachio cream cake. Stuffed-to-order cannolis. Zeppola, a stuffed Italian donut. Sometimes there are meatball subs or almond cookies. Ricotta cake or sfincione, Sicilian pizza. And after a customer asked, an array of straight-up risottos—one with gorgonzola and walnuts, another with sausage and mushrooms—and pastas like penne alla vodka, rigatoni with beef ragù, garlic and oil spaghetti with shrimp, or if you’re lucky one weekend, lasagna…

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It all depends on her mood and her time—which is part of the beauty of the Godmother of Long Beach.

Her food is a reflection of resiliency and nostalgia—or, how Giuseppina says it, “A lotta people don’t know what you’re going through, especially if you’re not born here: There’s a mixture of all these emotions and they’re combined with homesickness. My food has helped me through that.”

Ruthless honesty and genuine heart drive the Godmother of Long Beach

“I’m no little cookie,” Giuseppina proudly said. “The people who come to ask for food because they’re on the streets, I sometimes give it to them when I can but if I have customers, they know not to mess with me. They see me set up? They go somewhere else so I can do business. My customers have become my family and if there is one to thing to know, it is don’t come between a Sicilian and their family. In fact, don’t mess with a Sicilian, okay?”

There is a surliness to Giuseppina that is really just a part of her motherly love—tough, sure, but certainly not inhumane or crude. She will happily drop profanities with the best of them; it was an instantaneous love of the profane drew us together and might repel others but it is never from a space of vitriol. If anything, it comes from a place of both wisdom and love.

“I told my son when we last went to Sicily—we camped on the beach for a bit—that we’re on a rich people’s vacation,” Giuseppina said. “And it’s not because it cost a lotta money; it is because we had time. We didn’t have to look at our watches. You know the vacations where you don’t have to do shit and no one is bitching about things? Those are the best vacations. Sometimes, you just have to put it out there and say you’re going to do it: Vacation medication—and you can’t do that when you’re constantly looking at your watch. It’s real. Dolce farniente? People need that.”

Echoing the sentiments of her Italian brethren, Lorenzo Motolla of Vino e Cucina, the Italian grasp of that “sweet slowness” is not just one to apply to one’s vacation but one’s life in total: Please, amid the chaos, stop to smell the blossoming of an arancini torn open with your hands.

The Godmother of Long Beach continues the rich history of Italian food and immigrants coming onto our shores

Giuseppina’s story doesn’t live in a silo: Like the strongest of us, she has continually asked for help and within the Long Beach community, has received it back from fellow Italians. Stefano Procaccini—the patriarch behind the James Beard-recognized La Parolaccia on Broadway—connected her with the distributors she needed in order to garner ingredients from Sicily and Italy.

From Michael’s on Naples—a joint steeped in regional Italian food in a way that no other place mimics in the city—to La Parolaccia—which honors cibo Romano in a way that no other place does in the city—to Vino e Cucina—which brings a sense of Italian hospitality to a part of Long Beach that entirely lacks it—to Nonna Mercato—where Chef Cameron Slaugh’s masterful talent at the art of making pasta honors his own Italian heritage

The Godmother of Long Beach is a welcomed addition to our amazing Italian food scene.

The Godmother of Long Beach sets up every Thursday through Sunday at the southeast corner of Ocean Boulevard and Bennett Avenue. As for hours? Sometimes 2PM, sometimes 3PM. Message her on Instagram.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing Story, and Sounds Deliciously Sublime, and sit and wonder why some Restauranter doesn’t Snatch Her Up ALREADY…Hello….??? I feel like hunting her down to give her a big ole hug and a help out..!

    Thank You for the Delicious Story…!!

  2. Are these pop ups regulated by the health department? Is there a bathroom to use nearby? I have not been there yet.

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