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Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

Columns | Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories

1935 Professional Baseball Pitcher, R.S. Maceo, Sr., Says It’s All in the Olive Salad

by Bill Cherry
Bill Cherry

Probably because I’d known them for a lifetime, my favorites of the old-time Maceos were Rosario S. Maceo, Sr. and his brother, Vincent A. Maceo. But then somehow I’ve got to include Sam T. “Little Sam” Maceo, Jr., who passed away a number of years ago. For years each of them shared their stories with me. Perhaps they felt they should. After all, I grew up with their children, and that was at the time when the Maceo enterprises were Galveston’s main drawing card.

1948 Photo of (LR) Joe Maceo, Rosario S. Maceo, Sr., Vincent Maceo.
Photo courtesy Ronnie Maceo

R.S. Maceo and his son Ronnie built an intriguing enterprise of their Maceo’s Spice and Import Co. that’s near 27th and Market Street in Galveston. And while I admit that I used to go in there to primarily visit and talk about old times with Mr. R.S., before he passed away, rarely did I leave without at least one freshly made muffaletta wrapped up tight in white sandwich paper and tucked into a brown paper bag.

The muffaletta sandwich was the invention of a Sicilian immigrant who opened a small grocery in New Orleans in 1906. His name was Anthony Lavoi. He would take the broken olive pieces and oil from the bottom of the barrels in his store, spread them on a round baguette, add some thinly sliced morta della, mozzarella, salami, provolone and ham, then douse the whole thing with a mixtures of red wine vinegar, olive oil and finely chopped garlic. The Italians call those crusty round rolls, “muffas.” Lavoi called his sandwich a muffaletta.

Almost from the day Lavoi concocted and sold his first sandwich, one old Sicilian after another tried to claim it as his own invention. But there is one general consensus. It obtained its notoriety at the Central Grocery on New Orleans’ Decatur Street., and it’s still sold there today.

Anthony Lavoi was the great-uncle of R.S. Maceo, Sr., and Maceo’s has got the original recipe. And it’s from that original recipe that most days Ronnie makes muffalettas for sale at his store.

What separates the authentic muffaletta from the copy is the recipe for the sandwich spread that we afficionados refer to as “olive salad.” It’s one of those things you either make right or it’s wrong. There’s no such thing as reasonably OK olive salad. And the muffaletta has to be made with a muffa roll.

The only thing missing at Maceo’s is Barq’s root beer, and for all I know it could be that Barq’s isn’t even made any more. Nevertheless, in the old days, a Barq’s was to a muffaletta what a beer is to a pretzel.

R.S. Maceo’s father was Frank Maceo. Frank Maceo and his brothers Rose and Sam were the three operating partners of the Turf Athletic Club and Gulf Properties. That empire included the Hollywood Diner Club; the Balinese Room; the Turf Grill, Studio Lounge and Western Room; the famous beachfront carousel known as The Derby; the Sliver Moon; the Beach Amusement Park and a number of other night clubs and entertainment spots in Galveston county.

R.S. Maceo graduated from Kirwin High School in 1935 at 17, and went to pitch professional baseball for the Oklahoma team. After a year, his appendix ruptured, and the owners didn’t renew his contract. He returned to Galveston and learned to deal cards at the Balinese Room.

He married gorgeous Dorothy Reyner who had a dance studio on the corner of 25th Street and Avenue N. Before Mr. R.S. passed away this year, he and Miss Dorothy had celebrated more than seventy years of marriage.

In 1944 Mr. R.S. opened Maceo Seafood on the Galveston wharves, and for the next 28 years his boats combed the gulf for shrimp, fish and crab. Not only did Maceo Seafood supply all of the Maceo restaurants, but refrigerated railroad cars and trucks were packed and the products were wholesaled to vendors and restaurants in places like Houston, Dallas, Chicago, even Boston and New York.

Quite often each of his boats would return with 18,000 to 20,000 pounds of shrimp at the end of a day of trolling. It was a big enterprise.

But then the hauls began to diminish, and Mr. R.S. told me during one of our visits that he could see the handwriting on the wall. It was time to get out, so he sold his shrimp boats and his business and then took over for his family as the manager of the Turf Grill, and later the Blue Room.

He began importing and packaging spices for restaurants, and his little enterprise began a steady growth, and that was solely because his spices were very fresh, whereas most of the competition’s were shopworn by the time they reached the consumer.

A few years back, his son Ronnie, a well-known restaurant operator, joined him and together they made Maceo’s a major imported food and spice supplier.

The Maceo family are all talented Italian cooks. Each has his speciality. Mr. R.S.’s was his pasta gravy recipes. Customers can purchase jars of those various gravies at Maceo’s and other fine food groceries.

I love Mr. R.S.’s spaghetti gravy. That first bite of pasta smothered with his sauce over a few meatballs takes me back to my childhood, a time when Galveston and its people had great style and flair, and the Maceo family did a great deal to make it that way.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Bill Cherry's Galveston Memories November 15, 2009 column
© William S. Cherry. All rights reserved

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