Full Meaty Jacket: A barbecue lunch with actor, philanthropist and Rib City Grill partner Vincent D’Onofrio. 

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A number of my friends and associates are big fans of Rib City restaurant in Sandy (and also American Fork). I, however, had never made the trek there until last week when I had the opportunity to interview Law & Order: Criminal Intent star Vincent D’Onofrio. His sister Toni Jorgensen and her husband Ron opened both of the Utah Rib City restaurants, and D’Onofrio is also involved. He was kind enough to take time out from important charity work to sit down with me for a quick lunch at the Sandy restaurant.

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D’Onofrio and his Rib City “family” help raise donations for charities like Shop With a Cop (in which kids go shopping with police officers for Christmas at Kmart), Cops & Kids Sharing Christmas and The Fallen Officer Memorial Fund. D’Onofrio and his wife are involved in a number of charitable organizations but prefer to keep quiet about them—except, that is, for when meeting the public, signing autographs and posing for photos might help to generate a donation or two. D’Onofrio and his family are, as they say, good people. More than talking about his next movie or TV show, he was thrilled to tell me about the guy who walked up to him and the police chief of American Fork the night before and handed him a $700 donation.

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“That’s going straight to the kids!” D’Onofrio says, excitedly. He can hardly contain his enthusiasm when he talks about how donations large and small might improve an underprivileged kid’s Christmas.

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As the actor tucked into a plate of tender Bar-B-Q Chicken ($8.99) based with sweet barbecue sauce, I asked how a smart and successful, talented, Brooklyn-born guy of Italian descent got sucked into the restaurant biz. Why is he pimping barbecue rather than braciole?

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Vincent D’Onofrio: You gotta have a sister! This is really all Toni’s thing. But everybody I talk to loves this place, and every time I come here, I can do some charity thing for kids. It’s fantastic. Some kid’s gonna get, like, a Nerf gun for Christmas because of these donations.

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City Weekly: Speaking of guns, in the role of Private Leonard Pyle [Full Metal Jacket], did you have to do any special food management (or non-management) programs?

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VD: Yeah, I put on 80 pounds for that part! There was a lot of eating involved.

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CW: You’ve worked with some of the world’s great directors—people like Oliver Stone, Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick. Any thoughts on how great directors might be similar to great chefs?

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VD: I don’t know any great chefs.

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CW: Aside from Rib City, do you have any favorite Utah restaurants?

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VD: Not really. I don’t have the time to eat out. Although, I did have a good steak at the Grand America Hotel last night.

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CW: You’ve played Orson Welles twice now. Are your appetites at all similar to his?

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VD: No … even though I’m chowing down on chicken here! But he was a cinematic genius and I played him once and did it again to try to get it right.

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CW: You played screenwriter David Kahane in The Player. That film has many scenes of Hollywood shakers, movers and wannabes “taking meetings” in fancy restaurants like at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Do you employ restaurants as off-site offices?

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VD: Nah, I have a completely different life than that. I live in New York and have artist friends who are a pretty small circle. We find financing for our projects ourselves. Taking meetings … no, that’s not really my style.

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CW: Like jazz, it seems to me that barbecue is uniquely American.

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VD: I think it is. I definitely think that Americans’ attitude towards barbecue is like apple pie. It encapsulates the South, special sauces and people’s private recipes, little barbecue joints that you can find in places like Memphis and Nashville—stuff like that. It’s very American.

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CW: We’ve all got our favorite films. Do you have a favorite meal or meals?

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DV: I know this is gonna sound stupid, but I like barbecue a lot! [Laughs] I also like a good steak and any Italian dish if it doesn’t have fish in it. [D’Onofrio once worked in a fish market and apparently hasn’t gotten over the trauma.] I really like Cuban food too. I like the way good Cuban chefs treat their stews and their meats. When I was a kid in Miami, you could get a plate of rice, pork and beans for 50¢!

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As D’Onofrio polishes off the last of his chicken, he excuses himself saying, “I’m feeling kind of guilty about all the people out there.” There are throngs of folks lined up outside Rib City waiting to meet the actor, and he needs to get back to his fans. There are also donations for needy kids to be collected. As he departs, I wonder if I should mention the piece of chicken stuck between his perfectly straight, white teeth. Thankfully, my City Weekly colleague Jayne Pedersen is more courageous than I and brings D’Onofrio a toothpick. He appreciates the heads-up.

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A half rack of tender, meaty baby-back pork ribs at Rib City with two side dishes is a mere $8.99 at lunchtime. And I highly recommend the tiny baked beans in a sweet and spicy sauce, loaded with bits of bacon. The aforementioned chicken at Rib City is excellent, as is tender, thin slices of smoked turkey ($6.69/lunch). I also enjoyed the thin-sliced barbecue beef ($6.69), which is smoked over blackjack oak. Unlike too many local barbecue joints, at Rib City you’ll find—along with typical “red” barbecue sauces—the mustard-and-vinegar Carolina-style sauce that, for me, makes a pulled, chopped or sliced pork sandwich worth having. It’s a great place to visit the next time you’re required to put on 80 pounds or so.

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RIB CITY GRILL
n2071 E. 9400 South, Sandy, 947-1744
n648 E. State Road, American Fork, 801-492-1744
nRibCity.com

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