It is surprising to me how many Youngstown people I run across in my travels and there is one question we always ask each other sooner or later: “Have you found any good Italian food where you live?”
I was reminded of this because I ate recently at one of the Italian restaurant chains. Actually, the food was decent, pretty good red sauce, cheeses, and pasta. But it was nothing like what we could find at dozens of places around Youngstown when I was growing up.
Where was the best Italian food in Youngstown? My best guess is that most people would answer, “my mama’s kitchen.” And if not that, it was probably a grandmother, or an aunt who knew how to make that good red sauce, moist and flavorful meatballs over pasta cooked just the right length of time. I remember a time in college when we were hanging out at a friend’s house whose mom was making us home made spaghetti. The smell of that sauce simmering just about drove me nuts! But the wait was worth it.
As my wife and I were comparing notes about good places in Youngstown to get Italian, she reminded me that most of the time, we didn’t eat out that much growing up, so it just made sense that the best place to get good Italian was at home. And even if not, you didn’t say that to mom! Chances are, someone’s mom in the neighborhood made good Italian, and you could probably wrangle a dinner invite!
Of course, there were many good places to go for Italian. In fact, any self-respecting cook in a neighborhood bar probably made better Italian food than you can find in many big cities in this country. In downtown Youngstown, there was the Ringside and the Italian Restaurant. On the North side, there was Avalon Gardens and you could get good spaghetti at the 20th Century. Over in Smoky Hollow there was the MVR.
On the South side my wife and I used to go to Palazzo’s when we were dating (I also took my senior prom date there in high school!). Of course there were many other great places like the Elmton, that served pizza, but also a full menu of good Italian. There was also Antones, that opened up several other restaurants in the area eventually. And there was the favorite hangout of many in the Uptown area, the Pizza Oven.
Recently we had a speaker at Ohio State who ate at the Royal Oaks while researching an article on Youngstown. I was glad to hear the Royal Oaks was still going strong. He loved it! He even mentions it in his article on “A World Without Work.”
On the West side, we used to go to Michaelangelo’s, Marino’s and Lucianno’s. Then there was the strip between Niles and Warren that had a number of good places — Alberini’s, Cafe 422, Abruzzi’s, just to name a few. We have friends up north of the city, and we often run over to Muscarelli’s in Sharpsville, PA for some good Italian.
I suspect you are reading this and saying, “but what about…?” From reading Classic Restaurants of Youngstown I’m aware that there were a ton of other great places, many that lived and died before I ever got to them. Perhaps you know of some of these places. I’d love for you to tell the story of your favorite Italian place, or even that Italian grandmama who made the best red sauce ever. Just leave a comment here (or even a recipe!) and it will also become part of the story of good Italian food in Youngstown!