Having come from a long line of restauranteurs, North Tonawanda resident Michael DiGiulio pretty much grew up in a kitchen.
From hanging out in the back of his uncles’ Club 31 and Victor Hugo Wine Cellar restaurants in Buffalo, to looking over old photos and printed menus of his grandfather’s restaurant, the original Romeo’s, it was only a matter of time before he went into the family business.
After years of working for others, Michael and his wife Michele his wife finally realized their dream of having their own place by opening up Romeo’s Ristorante at 16 Webster St. in North Tonawanda.
“This has been a dream of ours,” Michael said. “It was a long time coming, but it’s all ours.”
The bistro-style Italian restaurant had a soft opening in June, supplying pizzas for the concerts at Crazy Jake’s a few doors down and began offering its full menu in mid-July. The idea was to only be open in the evenings, but Michael said customer traffic has demanded otherwise.
“We were thinking about closing during the day but the people that know we have good Italian food, they like to come in during the day ... it’s peaceful, it’s quiet, it’s relaxing,” Michael said.
In the evenings, things get a little busy.
“I don’t know where they’re coming from,” he said with a laugh. “Word of mouth must be that the spaghetti is good, the food is good.”
Romeo’s offers customers everything from the typical pizza, wings and subs of a take-out joint, but also specializes in made-from-scratch Italian dinners, including lasagna, chicken marsala and ravioli, among others.
“We have customers come in one week for a sit-down dinner and the next week they stop by for a pizza,” Michele said.
Michael said it’s a focus on fresh ingredients and authentic Italian recipes that set him apart from other restaurants.
“We use freshly made lasagna noodles and ravioli,” he said. “All the chicken is made fresh. There are no frozen chicken fingers here ... there are no pre-packaged portions.”
The restaurant’s specialties? Michael said three-cheese steak pizza and homemade pasta fogoil are big hits.
“People love that we’re making fresh chicken parmigiana and eggplant parmigiana,” he said.
As for the sauce, well, Michael says that recipe comes directly from his mother, and he feels pretty strongly about what authentic Italian red sauce tastes like.
“Most people that either aren’t Italian or don’t like Italian food think there’s sugar in the sauce,” he said. There’s not. “It’s the ingredients you use in the sauce and the way you prepare it that the bitterness comes out and the sweetness comes in. It has that rich hue on top of it and you just want to stick your bread into it, it’s so good.”
“I’m making six gallons of sauce a day. At the end of the night I just can’t believe I’ve got to make more sauce tomorrow. I’m keeping busy ... I made myself a wonderful job,” he said with a laugh, “but it’s what I wanted.”
Romeo’s Ristorante offers several tables to dine in, as well as take-out and delivery to boats at the Gateway Harbor docks.
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