Perhaps it is my age, or maybe it is my history. But I love dining at traditional, old-school Italian restaurants where the recipes are passed down through the generations. These restaurants are focused on the quality of food, not cutting-edge presentations, glitz, or glamour, just the food.
I remember the first time I went to one of these restaurants. I was sixteen, and my grandmother took me there for dinner after I passed my driver’s test and got my license. That was at Ann & Tony’s in West Jefferson, Ohio. Dining out was a big deal as a kid in my family. It was the first time (or close to it) I ate at a “fancy” restaurant. After all these years, it is still there (celebrating its 66th year). I need to go back next time I am in central Ohio.
Dining Out: Filippi’s Pizza Grotto Napa, CA
Last May, Amber from WineTravelEats took Gary and me to Filippi’s Pizza Grotto after my conference ended, and we had an afternoon of wine tasting. I think I suggested it because it was close to my hotel, should be an easy in and out and very casual. And, of course, it looked old-school. She said it was great, so we went. And it was beyond excellent; it was my perfect experience. Little did I know then, but there are fifteen locations, all still run by a member of the family. The first one opened 67 years ago.
We did not order pizza in spite of the restaurant’s name, and I was not drinking anything alcoholic. After four days of wine tasting, I needed a break. Gary, on the other hand, ordered a half carafe of the house Chianti. When Amber asked how it tasted, Gary’s response was. “Exactly how you would think it would taste.” Whatever that meant, he drank it all with a smile on his face.
Our Dining Experience
I ordered what I always order, Chicken Parmesan with a side of spaghetti. I also always order a side meatball. Why? Let’s just say that between the red sauce, the breading on the chicken, and the meatball, you will know all you need to know about the quality of the establishment. But I saw the size of the meatball, and I was scared. It was massive (also a good sign). I convinced Gary to order it and share it with me. So he ordered the Cheese Ravioli with Marinara and a massive meatball.
The red sauce was out of bounds; you could tell it had been cooking for days. The chicken was flawless. My spaghetti was perfectly cooked, and the meatball was light and tender and packed full of flavor. Yes, the portions were huge. I imagine an Italian grandma in the kitchen screaming, “Mangia, Mangia!”
My final note: I know that Napa is known for the gourmet, Michelin-rated, and five-star restaurants. But do yourself a favor and go to Filippi’s and order the pasta. And if all the other locations are on point, as well as the Napa location, then if you are in California, you gotta search these folks out. You will not be disappointed.
Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is located at 645 First St., Napa, CA. They are open from 11:00 am to 9:30 pm daily. Until 10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Dining Out: Ciro & Sal’s Provincetown, MA
We went to Ciro & Sal’s after a guest at Somerset House Inn said that it was fantastic. Because it rained that evening, they had several reservations cancel, and we should be able to get a table. It was only a few blocks down the street so we would not get too wet.
It remains in its original location established in the wine cellar of a large house towards the end of Kiley Alley. The room is pretty dark with low hanging original wood beams holding up the house that requires their taller guests to have to duck. The walls are brick with dugouts where wine used was stored; now filled with straw basket-clad Chianti bottles filling every nook and cranny. What dim lighting exists is shaded by old kitchen graters that throw tiny bits of light out in every direction.
If you do not like that cave-like feeling, there is also a dining room and bar on the second floor. It has mirrored walls and a soaring ceiling with large windows overlooking the surrounding gardens.
What is the Secret?
Our server Shelby greeted us, and of course, we talked her up to get the scoop on this place. Probably the coolest thing we learned is that the current owner, Larry Luster stated working there when he was 14 years old as a dishwasher. Through the years he worked his way throughout the kitchen ultimately becoming the chef. When it was time for Ciro to retire there was only one person that he entrusted with his legacy and that was Larry. With the original recipes ingrained into his soul becoming the owner was an obvious choice. Today with his son as the chef, Larry continues the job of quality control making sure that the Italian heritage of the restaurant remains as it has for the past 67 years.
1) Have you noticed that all three of these restaurants have been around for over 65 years?
2) My pictures from this dinner are horrible. The low lighting and an old iPhone were not a great combination and may tarnish your visual experience. The food is fantastic. Do not let my images ruin it for you. Not to mention I dove into the food and then remembered I needed a photo.
Our Dining Experience
We began our experience with a bottle ‘Santa Cristina’ Toscana Sangiovese Blend 2015. (60% Sangiovese, 40% combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah). This is a house wine and is very easy to drink with red fruit aromas and flavors. It is smooth with gentle tannins and moderate cleansing acidity.
We then chose our appetizer. I had Ostriche alla Giannini – Wellfleet oysters on the half shell baked with pesto, bread crumbs, and Parmigiana cheese. Think Clams Casino only oysters. Super good. They do not look as big as they were. They were perfectly cooked. I loved them. Gary ordered an appetizer portion of the pasta special, Fresh Lobster Ravioli – One ounce of fresh lobster per pillow covered in lobster cream sauce. I think I saw a tear run down Gary’s cheek as he took his first bite. Our table got very quiet.
For our entreés, you guessed it.
I ordered the Pollo alla Parmigiana – chicken cutlet breaded and baked with sugo (means sauce or gravy) served with pasta. The cutlet was still sizzling when it arrived at the table. The cheese may have lacked a lot of caramelization but had flavor in spades. The sauce is as I would hope. It tasted like that Italian grandpa would make. I apologize even more so regarding this picture. I was so excited that I immediately started eating; then took the picture. Gary chose theBurro e Formaggio – pasta tossed with butter, parsley, basil, garlic, EVOO, and Parmigiana cheese. It was simple and light after those super filling and rich lobster ravioli. He too started eating before the picture. He said it was everything he had hoped.
This meal was everything and more that I love from an old-school Italian Restaurant. As we left the restaurant that night, Larry’s son, the chef was standing outside. We told him how much we enjoyed our dinner. As we continued on we told him that we will see him again next year.
Ciro & Sal’s opens at 5:30 pm daily and one of the few restaurants open all year around in Provincetown. The address is 4 Kiley Court (just off of Commercial St., Provincetown, MA.
Do you have a favorite “old school” Italian Restaurant where you live?
I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment and let me know.
That is all for now,