Ristorante Dei Fantasme
In case your high school Italian isn’t so good, or if your high school didn’t offer Italian, the title of this segment roughly translates to “The Haunted Restaurant.”
As you may have surmised, this particular restaurant is one of several Italian restaurants in Avalon and one of my favorites on the Island.
But aside from the delicious Scampi al Vino Bianco and the incredible Luna Piena di Pollo, the restaurant holds another fascination for me: it just happens to have some of Avalon’s most astounding ghost stories.
Teresa Brizuela has worked at this establishment for more than a decade. She most often works alone during the morning hours, cleaning the restaurant and the kitchen area.
Her first, but certainly not last, experience occurred shortly after she began working in the restaurant. At about 5 a.m. one morning, she was fetching a mop in a cleaning storage area near the kitchen. Suddenly, only 5 feet away, she saw a man walking down the stairs into the basement. Teresa was naturally startled by the man’s presence since the restaurant was closed and all the entrance doors locked.
She walked towards the man and watched as he literally disappeared before her eyes.
“You mean he went around the corner and disappeared?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “He disappeared, ‘desaparecio,’ before my eyes.”
Nearly hysterical, she screamed at the man in both English and Spanish. “Who is it, ¿Quien es?” she asked.
She grabbed a heavy steel wrench from some nearby CO2 bottles and boldly descended the stairs into the basement through the only entrance (or exit) to the room. There, she looked in each of the tiny storage rooms and around the ice machine, but there was no one to be found.
She described the man as being a shorter, balding middle-aged man. He appeared to be wearing a baseball-style cap along with a sports team-style jacket.
Some time later, Teresa was cleaning the floor tiles at the entrance to the kitchen area. Her back was turned to the front windows of the restaurant through which early morning light was illuminating the interior. As usual, she was alone.
Suddenly, she noticed a large shadow that had cast itself from behind her over the floor and the wall in front of her.
Remembering her earlier experience, she first counted to three and then turned around to see “un hombre como una sombra” (“a man like a shadow”) moving through the restaurant and disappearing into the nearby busboy’s station.
Other employees, too, have seen this same figure descending into the basement, a place that many of the kitchen workers refuse to enter when they are alone.
One former employee remembers sitting in the office in the kitchen late one night and seeing someone walk right by the office door. Since no one was supposed to be in the building at this hour, the employee immediately rose and looked out the office door to see who the trespasser was, only to find no one there. So who is our spectral friend? Given that the building has been there for many decades, it could be just about anyone who was ever associated with it: former owners, managers, employees, devout patrons who just couldn’t leave this earthly plane without knowing whether or not torta di granchio was offered on the “other side.”
Such spiritual “hangers-on,” I am told, are often those dear departed individuals who had the most emotional attachment to the particular locale they are haunting.
I spoke with several locals who used to know a former manager of the restaurant going back to the 1960s and ’70s. Although the clothing description of a baseball-style cap and jacket didn’t sound familiar to them, they said the general description of a shorter, balding middle-aged man is an exact match.
Teresa has had no cessation of encounters with this spirit since her original one several years ago. In fact, glimpses of the “shadow man,” as well as plates scooting off tables by themselves and even physical brushes against someone “who is not there” have become so common she now laughs them off.
“I think it’s funny, now,” she said. “Whoever he is, he is here and I don’t care anymore.”