Pigs & Pinot emcee, actor Mario Cantone professes love for Healdsburg

Mario Cantone's love affair with Healdsburg began one night at a dinner in Manhattan. Over the course of the evening, the woman sitting next to him wouldn't stop talking about how great it was. The woman happened to be Lisa Palmer, wife of Dry Creek Kitchen's world renowned chef Charlie Palmer, and Cantone was not just won over by her pitch about the city. He was charmed by her.

"I used to go to Napa all the time and I'd come through Healdsburg and eat. But I never stayed there," says Cantone, the renowned comedian and "Sex and the City" star who will be emcee at Palmer's hugely successful charity fundraiser, Pigs and Pinot, this weekend. "She kept saying, 'You have to come to Healdsburg and stay. You will love it.' She was right. But she was so sweet and funny and I found that the town is full of people like her. I feel Healdsburg is my new second home."

That New York dinner was in 2010 and shortly after, Cantone and his partner, director and performer Jerry Dixon, took a trip up to Healdsburg after Cantone wrapped up filming a TV pilot in Los Angeles.

"It's such a special little place," says Cantone. "The food, the river, the wine and the people. I don't know why, but I feel comfortable here. I was going to Napa for so many years and you know, I didn't really form any friendships there. I feel like I did that in Healdsburg immediately."

Cantone, 53, and Dixon, make their home New York City and spend part of the year in New Orleans. They've made frequent trips to Northern California, but it took his visit to Healdsburg to make Cantone feel at home.

"The food is amazing, everybody knows that," he says. "I love Scopa and Charlie's place (Dry Creek Kitchen). And the coffee at The Flying Goat. Oh, and those English muffins at the Downtown Bakery."

Food and small-town life are in Cantone's blood. He grew up in Stoneham, Mass., learning to cook from his grandmother. But his heart was in performing, and as a child, he dreamed of performing on stage. After attending Emerson College in Boston, Cantone tried Los Angeles. But after nine months of getting nowhere, he headed east, this time to the Big Apple.

New York turned out to be just the ticket. He landed a few high-profile, comedy-club gigs and then was hired to do a children's show for local TV that became a minor cult hit. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his one-man show on Broadway and then came his most recognizable role, as wedding planner Anthony Marantino on the hit HBO TV show, "Sex and the City." He still regularly performs and makes frequent appearances on the day-time talk show, "The View."

Cantone also is working on a new one-man show, but he's looking forward to taking a break from the rush to emcee Pigs & Pinot, especially since that long-ago dinner with Lisa Palmer ended up as the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

"When they asked me to do Pigs & Pinot this year, I absolutely said I'd do it," he says. "I really hated to miss out on a chance to help out a friend."

And spend time in Healdsburg.

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