FOOD: Italiano’s Pizza & Pasta

Italiano'sAmericans’ love affair with
Italian food has earned it the status of a stateside staple. Perhaps the rich
family traditions, time-honored recipes and detailed preparation of this
storied cuisine speak as much to the soul as to the palate, in any culture or
corner of the world.

Once considered
an ethnic food, Italian fare has so pervaded the American dining
experience that pizza and spaghetti seem no less indigenous than apple pie or
fried chicken.

Today’s stylish pastas and
custom pizzas set a fashionable lunch scene. By evening, family dinner
tables brim with hearty rounds of spaghetti and lasagna in a quest for the
ultimate comfort food. And by night, the saucy elegance of artistic
Alfredo and marinara dishes conjure up romance in its tastiest form. Is it
any wonder we’ve embraced this versatile food with such amore?

Given the widely varied
interpretations of Italian cuisine, discovering those with authentic
nuances steeped in family tradition holds new allure. Joel Brentlinger,
owner and chef of Italiano’s Pizza & Pasta, grew up immersed in such
tradition. With his Great Grandmother hailing from Calabria, a region in
southern Italy, Brentlinger’s cooking naturally reflects the more
southern-style customs. A mainstay of that culinary heritage is found in
Italiano’s custom sauces, “just the way Grandma and Great Grandma used to make
them,” Brentlinger recalls in tribute to his maternal masters.

Whatever Grandma and Great
Grandma did, they certainly did it right. Most of the recipes at Italiano’s
have been passed down at least four generations, if not five. Inspired to share
the family’s culinary heirlooms, Brentlinger is the first of his lineage to
cook professionally. “Through my degree in Hotel and Restaurant
Administration from OSU, I learned the restaurant business and the basics of
cooking,” he notes. “I strive for excellence in all my food. That is why I make
much of it myself and oversee carefully the rest.”

With family from Brooklyn and
Long Island and a mother born in Manhattan, Brentlinger’s New York influences
spark menu magic as well. The superb New York style, hand-tossed pizzas start
with fresh, handmade dough, lightly browned into a chewy crust that lets you
linger over each delectable bite. Smoky pepperonis the size of your palm and
flavorful, 100% Mozzarella cheese are among 15 toppings for the choosing.

Another menu highlight is the
Chicken Parmigiana. A breaded chicken breast, pan-fried in healthy olive
oil, is smothered in Chicken Delight Sauce—a tangy, slightly sweet red sauce
cooked with bone-in chicken for a hearty punch of flavor—and topped with melted
Mozzarella cheese.

Brentlinger continually creates
new ‘Off Menu’ specials and offers non-traditional foods like Mexican and
steaks as well. “We have very good steaks—not something Italian food is known
for,” he reveals. “I use Italian herbs and spices to marinate our steaks two to
three days before we use them. We currently serve two sizes of rib eye and a 10
oz. New York strip.”

Whatever you do, don’t leave
Italiano’s without a slab of Grandmother Jean’s New York Cheesecake. The
buttery graham crust and dense, creamy, sweet cake “take you back to the
streets of Brooklyn,” as one discerning native Brooklyn diner notes.

Located at 6833 N. Broadway, at
Waterloo, Italiano’s is open Monday–Thursday 4–9pm and Friday &
Saturday 11am–9pm. Call 216-5660 for to-go orders and catering or
visit italianosokc.com.

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