Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Italian Food

spaghetti-with-meat-sauceIt 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!

15 thoughts on “Growing Up In Working Class Youngstown — Italian Food

  1. Hello, love your blog!

    In addition to my great aunt’s kitchen -she’s 95 and still cooks a mean red sauce- I’d note Brier Hill and the amazing St. Anthony’s pizza that is STILL made by the women and men of the church as it was years ago. There’s nothing like approaching the door to the pick up area and smelling it. Every time I visit I’m amazed that $6 gets you this slice(s) of heaven especially when a terrible pizza in the Bay Area can run you $30. Cornersburg pizza is another favorite for me, I usually order one as soon as I get off the turnpike heading to Youngstown. OH, and who can forget wedding soup and all the conversations about what should or should not be in it? Eggs or no eggs? I could go on. Thanks again for writing.

  2. Don’ forget the Silver Mirror on Youngtown-Poland Road @ Midlothian, and Starlight Cafe on Rte. 224 in Poland Township!

  3. I’m going to toot my family’s horn here. 5th Ave Pizza was owned by my dad, George Mansour, Sr. At times his brothers were partners with him and my maternal grandmother was, for a time a, partner in the business. We made pizza, of course, the best sauce and sausage, spaghetti sauce meatballs, cavatelli, and ravioli. Our first shop was on 5th Ave just above the bridge to downtown. Boots Bell was a regular for our spaghetti dinner and we had the first delivery in town. There are lots of stories I could tell about our shops (multiple shops at one time in the surrounding areas), but I’ll stop here with the most humble opinion I can give, my dad made the best. Outside of my Dad’s sauce, both of my grandmother’s made wonderful sauce.

  4. My favorite was Cesta’s Golden Gate Restaurant!! Everything was made from scratch! Owner & Chef Loui made the Best Chicken Parmesan 🙂 They also had the best wedding Events!! I loved the ice carvings & cookie tables at the events.

  5. Growing up we always went to Scarsella’s restaurant on Market st. Lou and Grace Scarsella owned it at the time. Great people. Fantastic sauce. What stands out the most for me is when my mother passed away in 1963. We had family here from around the country for her funeral. When Lou and Grace found out they invited us all to their restaurant, they fed us all and would not accept a dime. I will always appreciate what they did for us. Scarsellas is still open for business and is being run I believe by the grandkids of Lou and Grace.

  6. My grandparents owned several restaurants. They started with “Al’s Grill” on the corner of Pyatt and Market Street back in the 40s and 50s. Many of the people who worked downtown would use the trolley (or bus?) and travel up the street to have lunch there. The building was torn down many years ago. She used to go to the Pyatt Street market to get her fresh vegetables and meat for the restaurant.

    Then they owned the Sierra Lounge out in Poland in the 60s. (It’s now a pool place.) People came for miles to have Italian food there.

    Today…There’s Cafe Capri and Nicolini’s in Boardman as well as LaRocca’s in Poland.

    I no longer live in Youngstown area but I go back periodically to visit family. I’ve eaten in a lot of places over the years (California, Virginia and North Carolina AND Germany) and the Italian we could get in Youngstown will always be the best as far as I’m concerned. And then, if you’re an Italian cook, like me…trying to find the different pastas (like the little bow ties for soup) or cheeses are difficult to find in other parts of the country!!

    Sad, isn’t it? 😦

    So…when I come home to visit, I make a Rulli brothers run to stock up on the pasta that I can’t find in NC. 🙂

  7. Starlight Cafe- about 3-4 miles east of Poland on SR 224- or as our family called it – Romeo’s- was told the spaghetti was great – never ate it bc they had the best fried chicken – ribs and pizza were excellent too. My dad would order 2 fishbowl drafts bc the 4 kids would always take a sip out of the frosted mug.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s