TOWN OF TONAWANDA —
After more than a decade of success in Buffalo and a handful of years in Williamsville, restaurant owner Vito Semeraro has opened up a third location of his Italian restaurant and bakery, Romeo and Juliet’s, in the town. The restaurant, which opened Jan. 12 at 2512 Sheridan Drive, features a sit-down dining room and an adjacent cafe where diners can grab a quick bite to eat on the go.
Semeraro, who moved to the United States from Puglia, Italy, in 2007, said diners won’t find more authentic food outside of Italy than at Romeo and Juliet’s. He lays no claims to being a chef, saying he simply learned to cook from his mother while growing up.
Semeraro says it’s about “strong instincts.”
“I can make you whatever you want,” he said. “You just give me meat and flour.
“One thing for sure is I am from Italy. I’m not a guy who just decided to open a restaurant. I grew up with this job,” he added.
The restaurant’s menu offers up plenty of standard Italian fare — eggplant and chicken Parmesan, pizza, paninis, soup and salad are what he does best, Semeraro said.
Romeo and Juliet’s offers up a thin-crust pizza, something more akin to what one might find in Italy. Semeraro explains most pizzerias in Western New York make a thicker, Sicilian-style pizza.
“Americans like to go to Italy for vacation,” Semeraro said with a laugh, pointing out that when they come back, they tell him, “ ‘You know Vito, I like your pizza better.’ ”
Semeraro said his real talent, though, lies in pastries.
“I’m a baker,” he simply said.
The one thing he said he bakes that isn’t offered at most bakeries is panettone. This cylindrical sweet bread is a Christmas staple and takes days of proofing to make. Cakes, cookies and cannolis are among the other sweet treats diners can try out at Romeo and Juliet’s.
Not long after moving to the U.S., Vito opened his first Romeo and Juliet’s restaurant in 1999 on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo. That’s where Jenna Aiello, manager of the Tonawanda location, first started working for Semeraro.
“I played almost every role possible,” she said. “I worked my way up from the bottom.”
She later transferred to the Williamsville location when it opened in 2007 and is now heading up the staff in Tonawanda.
“I try to keep the people who work for me with me,” Semeraro said. “We are in this together.”
Aiello said the menu at the new location of Romeo and Juliet’s will be the same as the existing two.
“All the recipes are taken from Vito, from his home ... nothing frozen or prepackaged,” she said. “There’s just some flavor to (our food) that reminds me of when my grandma cooks. However they spice it, it makes you imagine that you’re sitting at a restaurant in the middle of Italy.”
Romeo and Juliet’s Café is open Tuesday through Saturday each week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a 10 p.m. closing time on Fridays and Saturdays.
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: Romeo and Juliet’s Café
• WHERE: 2512 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda
• FARE: Italian
• HOURS: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday
• MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.rjcaffe.com or call 862-3980
Contact features editor Danielle Haynes at 693-1000, ext. 4116.