Sunday, May 30, 2021

Romano’s Pizza - Italian Restaurant - Vinny Quarto, Frank Fragale - History of Calabria Italy - Montrose Neighborhood Houston

Romano’s Fettuccine Frutti di mare


"...We had become accustomed to grabbing food at Romano’s on nights Donnie didn’t cook, and I hadn’t a clue how much that ritual meant to me until the nail salon’s fire pole-axed it."

Virginia Billeaud Anderson - BoudinandBourbon.com informs readers that Romano's Pizza and Italian Restaurant re-opened. Vincenzo Quarto (Vinny) and Francesco Fragale (Frank), born to two sisters in Calabria Italy, Antoinette and Caterina, are dishing out exquisite food. Read some fun history of Calabria.)


Romano’s Pizza - Italian Restaurant - Vinny Quarto, Frank Fragale - History of Calabria Italy - Montrose Neighborhood Houston

I knew it was a special occasion when I saw Donnie yank a bottle of Chianti Reserva out of his stash. Ordinarily he keeps his “good” reds for guests. Why were we celebrating? Romano’s Pizza Italian Restaurant on West Gray in Montrose neighborhood finally re-opened. Romano’s was forced to close in October after a fire in the neighboring nail salon damaged the restaurant. It took six months to re-build. We had become accustomed to grabbing food at Romano’s on nights Donnie didn’t cook, and I hadn’t a clue how much that ritual meant to me until the nail salon’s fire pole-axed it. Clearly Donnie was feeling the same on the day he stuck his nose up to Romano’s window to see if construction was nearly complete. Romano’s re-opened on May 24, and on May 26 we carried home Chicken Parmigiana and several pasta dishes and salads and hot bread full of olive oil and garlic. And drank a “good” red.

Romano’s immigrant story is classic. Cousins Vincenzo Quarto (Vinny) and Francesco Fragale (Frank), born to two sisters in Calabria, Antoinette and Caterina, came to America in the 1970s with their families. They worked for over 15 years in neighborhood pizzerias in New York City. In 1992 they relocated to Houston, and worked at Napoli Restaurant on Memorial Drive, until 1998 when they busted out on their own, and opened Romano’s on West Gray, where their sons joined them. Not a dumb move. Houston foodies swoon over Romano’s pizzas and pastas.

It’s fun to watch those guys work. Kitchen noises unfurl, they spin and trot around the pizza oven and the stove with skillets bubbling. Practically operatic! I saw noisy manoeuvers like that in pizza joints in Sicily where the predictable image of Padre Pio or some other favorite saint decorates the wall over the cash register.

Romano’s Pizza Sicily

One day I watched a video of a 101-year old Calabrian “nonna” named Concettina making pasta. She started making pasta at the age of eight when her mother died. Concettina moved her arthritic fingers through flour on a board, then shaped the pasta using a thin piece of metal. Her particular pasta had ancient origins, although the ancients used a small reed to shape it instead of a wire implement. Frank and Vinny learned pasta-making skills from their Calabrian mothers. It’s not farfetched to imagine some of their mothers’ recipes reach back to ancient times. Go early if you want the Portobello Mushroom Ravioli, it sells out quickly. One of my favorite pastas is Lobster Ravioli in a light cream rosa sauce, and the Spaghetti with white clam sauce kicks butt.

Decades ago, legendary food guru Waverly Root suggested the quality of Calabrian fish was sufficiently high to consider just getting out of its way, perhaps some olive oil, lemon and oregano. “The less you do to it the better.” Romano’s seafood specials on the other hand probably incorporate snippets of the family’s Calabrian recipes. Calabria is located at the narrow tip of the Italian peninsula. Its western shore is the Mediterranean Sea, its southern shore below Italy’s “boot” meets the Ionian sea, its eastern shore butts-up against the turquoise Adriatic sea, providing about 500 miles of coastline. Root asserted the town of Reggio Calabria on the Strait of Messina ate better than the rest of Calabria because the Strait was a better fishing ground, and because Reggio Calabria’s food preparation was influenced by Messina across the Strait in Sicily, which was “gastronomically better developed.” Root meant this as complimentary, however back-ass. Yet it was Root who gave me a hankering to travel to Calabria’s beautiful mountainous interior to taste goat or lamb cooked in red and yellow peppers.

Years back in graduate school I took a slide test on the Riace Bronzes, a pair of man-size bronze Greek warriors pulled from the sea off the coast of Calabria which dated to 460 BC. The majestic sculptures signal a noteworthy artistic moment, yet are barely a hiccup framed against Italy’s oldest recorded history. In 700,000 BC, a type of Homo Erectus left traces of human presence along the Calabrian coast. Much later, Paleolithic Stone Age humans created cliff drawings that date back 12,000 years. Archaeologists found Neolithic villages on the shore of Lake Cecita that date to 3500 BC, and at 1500 BC Calabria cultivated vines like the Minoans. And of course the Greeks colonized Calabria in 720 BC, which explains the Greek temple ruins. A sidebar to the colonization story centers on food. The first colony the Greeks established on the coast of Calabria was Sybaris, which became a rich and opulent place with a reputation for luxury. Sybarites got off on good food and wine. Sybaris ultimately bit the dust, and now a sybarite weirdly connotes a degenerate.

Romano’s Spaghetti with White clam sauce

Romano's Spaghetti with Bolognese sauce

One easily imagines Romano’s sprinkling fennel seeds into their eggplant. Fennel grows wild in Calabria. Antoinette and Caterina would have customarily coated artichokes with garlic, so expect the artichokes in Romano’s Chicken Piccata to have garlic. When you eat Romano’s antipasto, or their pizza topped with peppers, mushrooms and olives, enjoy knowing that peppers are one of Calabria’s most important vegetables, and that Calabria is Italy’s largest porcini mushroom producer, and ranks second for olive tree plantations. The region cranks out many varieties of olives. Thanks to the Greeks.


(Selected Articles on BOUDINANDBOURBON.COM) 

Unraveling Mint Juleps, Pat O’Brien’s Patio, Julep Bar, Anvil Bar and Refuge

Eating Oysters at Topwater Grill in San Leon at Galveston Bay

A Tribute to Legendary Wildcatter - Jim Bob Moffett

A Talk with Food Guru George Graham about Acadianatable.com - Graham’s New Cookbook “Fresh From Louisiana: The Soul of Cajun and Creole Home Cooking” - Interview
https://www.boudinandbourbon.com/2020/12/a-talk-with-food-guru-george-graham.html

Ryan Baptiste - The Light Beyond The Blight - Redbud Gallery - Echoes of New Orleans
https://www.boudinandbourbon.com/2020/06/ryan-baptiste-light-beyond-blight.html

Bar Boheme - Houston Bars - Drag Brunch - Architectural Preservation
https://www.boudinandbourbon.com/2020/05/bar-boheme-houston-bars-drag-brunch.html

Martha Stewart Visits Lucullus Antiques - Patrick Dunne - New Orleans
https://www.boudinandbourbon.com/2019/11/martha-stewart-visits-lucullus-antiques.html

Jimmy Domengeaux Chats about His Louisiana Wetlands Photography Exhibition – Interview
https://www.boudinandbourbon.com/2019/10/jimmy-domengeaux-chats-about-his.html

Avesta Persian Grill's Pomegranate and Walnut Stew, Cyrus the Great, Tajikistan


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