Angelo DePonti, above and below, oversees the cooking for the Fair Haven Fire Department’s annual spaghetti dinner, scheduled for Saturday night. (Photos by Joe Fisher. Click to enlarge)


There’s a special ingredient the Fair Haven Fire Department rolls out to ensure success at its annual spaghetti dinner fund raiser. It’s not in the meat. It’s not in the sauce. And it’s not in the bread.

It is Angelo DePonti – and his way with meatballs.

“I learned to make meatballs from my mother and father,” said DePonti, 83, a lifelong Red Bank resident. “As a kid, I used to watch them cook every Sunday. I was born to cook. I love to watch people eat my food. I haven’t got a recipe for my meatballs, I just know how much to put in… by the smell, by the feel”

DePonti, a retired Garden State Parkway maintenance worker, is a social member of the Fair Haven Fire Department. For the past 60 years, he’s also volunteered with Red Bank’s Union Hose Company where his son, Steve, and his two grandchildren, Steve Jr. and Matt, also serve.

In preparation for this year’s spaghetti dinner, scheduled for Saturday, DePonti was in the Fair Haven firehouse kitchen Thursday night preparing the meatballs with a crew of helpers.

DePonti seasons the meat. (Photo by Joe Fisher. Click to enlarge)

One of his assistants, firefighter and athletic committee chairman Tim Morrissey, said the dinner typically draws more than 200 people, helping pay for the department’s participation in the Firemens’ Sunday Softball League.

Morrissey said the department will be serving close to 70 pounds of meat, six cases of tomato sauce, 60 pounds of spaghetti and 65 loaves of Italian bread. And don’t forget the salad and dessert.

“Angelo is a main staple here,’’ Morrissey said of the dinner planning. “He’s put a lot of hard effort into this. Eighty-three years old and he’s still doing it like he did 20 years ago. It’s hard to keep up with him, actually.”

In the kitchen, DePonti tended to three massive trays of ground beef, carefully adding bread crumbs, parsley flakes, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic and parmesan cheese. “You’ve got to have the cheese in there. And the eggs, they go in last,” he said. “One egg per pound of meat.’’

“If I put too much bread crumbs in, and it’s too dry, we put a little bit of milk in there to moisten it,” he said. “You got to get it so when you roll it, it won’t stick to your hands.’’

DePonti leaves the kneading up to his assistants. “When the guys are done rolling them, we put them in the oven for 20 minutes to brown. And then they cook in the sauce.”

“The highest count we’ve had here is 707 meatballs we made.” DePonti said with pride. “People always ask: ‘Who made the meatballs?’ And everybody says: ‘Angelo!’”

“Yeah, I was born to cook!”

The BYOB all-you-can-eat feast runs from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday; tickets cost $10 for adults and $7 for children. All are welcome. The dinner is at the firehouse at 645 River Road.