"This is a traditional full-course Italian meal, similar to how food is served at family occasions. It's a Roman feast."
"And when you're in Rome, do as the Romans do - and mangia," said vice president Joseph Cialini between spoonfuls of spezzato.
County Commissioner D.T. Marrone started the feast in 1973 by suggesting that the club serve food as a way of attracting members to its monthly meetings. The dinners became so large the club created a Men's Night separate
from the meeting. Men's Night, the first Tuesday of each month, attracted more people than the building could hold, so the club added a second Men's Night on the third Tuesday of each month.
The two Men's Nights attract about 850, and the Ladies' Night, the first Monday after the first Men's Night, attracts about 350.
The bar area clears as the waitresses bring out the first course of roasted hot peppers and salad.
"Take the advice of an old man who knows. You don't want to eat those alone," said Cialini, nodding at a bowl of roasted jalapeno peppers. "Put them in your salad and make sure you have a big hunk of bread handy."
The peppers are hot, the salad is fresh, and the braided bread, baked by president Mario Berardi, is crusty and soft. The wine flows.
At the officers' table, conversations about middleweight boxers and the Chicago Cubs of yesteryear are interrupted by members who stop by to pay their respects.
Waitresses remove the empty salad bowls and wine bottles and replace them with stainless steel bowlsfull of spezzato and new wine bot-tles.
Manager Maria Silvestri, coordinator of the feast, smiles. The officers have approved the new chef's spezzato, a spicy specialty made of chicken gizzards, Italian sausage, cubed beef, mushrooms, onions and celery in a brown gravy.
Silvestri has managed the club for two years since the death of her husband, Babe, who managed the club for 30 years. She cooked for the event for 13 years.
Her staff of two chefs and 22 workers prepares and serves the food and drink. The main course alternates between stuffed pork chops, prime rib and
"This is breaking bread together," said DiArcangelo. He rips a braid from the huge loaf and passes it on. "The most important thing about the feast is the camaraderie these guys share.
Newcomers to the event were impressed.
"There aren't many places you can get together with 500 guys, have a seven-course dinner and a few drinks without the wives waiting outside worrying about them," said Bernie Henry, one of Berardi's guests.
"The wives don't worry about them because they know their husbands are just down here, eating with their buddies," said Silvestri, who sells the tickets, assigns the tables and buys the food and drink for the club. ''Besides, most of them take a doggie bag home to their wives."
"These dinners are beautiful because of the diverse people coming together to eat and socialize," said Charles Spaziani, co-owner of Spaz Beverage in West Goshen.
"I have all walks of life at my table - lawyers, accountants, doctors, plumbers, construction workers, you name it. One guy has millions, but he's in there ripping the bread apart, eating hot peppers and busing with everyone else."
The club was founded in 1912 about one block from the present clubhouse. Its membership fluctuated but fell off dramatically during the 1950s, Berardi said. The club's turnaround was spearheaded by the late Joe Menna, former owner of the Birmingham Grille, who was president for about 20 years.
Berardi was vice president under Menna and became president in 1975. He has been an officer for about 20 years.
The club, which also serves family dinners on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights, now has 3,221 members, about 400 of whom are women. It serves about 4,000 dinners per month.
The Men's Nights are open to members, who can bring up to three guests and cost $13 per ticket. One dollar is a tip and one is for a chance at winning $25, a fruit basket or bottle of wine. A guest must pay a $20 membership fee to join the club after three visits.
"Usually the guests join after their first Men's Night," Silvestri said.