A Long Drive But Well Worth It
After our second and third “Martino’s” visits, I find myself wondering if this string of really wonderful experiences will continue through all thirty eateries we’ve discovered so far that feature our family surname. I submit that the bar has been set pretty high by these first three.
This second chapter, unlike the first, was really all about visiting two more “Martino’s” and not coincidental to a vacation of other intent. And while some may find it odd to drive some 900 miles simply to check out two new restaurants, it’s probably going to get more bizarre as we try to visit as many “Martino’s” as we can in our remaining years.
Of course it makes perfect sense to us and this latest adventure only reinforced that notion. The people we met would have made the whole trip worth it alone, but the food was...well, read on!
Martino’s Italian Villa, Kokomo, IN
After a traffic-free, incredibly uneventful four hour drive straight east through Illinois and Indiana on state and county highways, Carol and I made it to the central Indiana city of Kokomo at around 11:00am on Tuesday November 20, 2012 and found Martino’s Italian Villa already half filled with patrons enjoying an early lunch. We found a booth in the corner of the front dining room and we were immediately greeted by our server Tamari. I pretty much threw Tamari an immediate curve by asking for a glass of any red wine with the caveat that we wanted to take home the empty bottle for our label collection. She accommodated nicely with a Vendange Cabernet and we enjoyed it while scrutinizing the extensive lunch menu. Carol chose the Insalata Caprese, a beautiful salad of fresh mozeralla, tomatoes and basil, and I opted for the Italian Stromboli (Carol had a generous portion of my Stromboli as well). Both were excellent and the sausage on the Stromboli was perfect.
After we finished our meal, Mike Martino came by to see if we were okay with everything and it was then that we told him our names and shared our reason for being there that day. It was a great conversation and at some point, Mike called his mother Angie over to meet us as well. Angie and husband Frank, who passed away in 2004, started Martino’s Italian Villa in its current location and venue in 1972, bringing family recipes, all passed down word-of-mouth and Italian hospitality to the folks in Kokomo. It’s pretty easy to see why it’s been a successful business.
Mike spent more than fifteen minutes with us sharing some of his family history, telling us his father Frank immigrated to America from Gallo, Italy in 1947. It was interesting to see the similarities to our Martino story, albeit nearly a generation later. Frank came to find work and a new life in the new world and brought his culture with him...just as our grandfather did. As it turned out, that was a theme that was to be with us throughout this chapter of our quest.
Mike, his brother Joe and their mother Angie gifted us with some wonderful “Martino’s” memorabilia as we left that afternoon, souvenirs of a great meal but more importantly, reminders of time spent with wonderful people with my family name. While our Italian ancestors were from far different parts of the old country, who knows, we may very well be distant kin. But whether that’s true or not, this Martino family made us feel like part of theirs that November day and that’s the best gift we could ever receive. Thank you to all the folks at “Martino’s”! We will see you again!
In March 2014, I got to do something that I'd wanted to do for a while...take my sister Sandra on one of these Martino Quest adventures. I knew Martino's Italian Villa in Kokomo would be perfect because of the wonderful Martino folks we met when Carol and I first visited in November 2012. It was a great overnight adventure for Sandra and me which included a day of checking out the many and varied antique stores in and around Kokomo. But the highlight was dinner at Martino's and getting to spend time with our "long lost cousins" once again. We got to meet Anthony this time, a third generation Martino working in the family business. Once again we thank everyone at this wonderful Italian restaurant for their hospitality and for the incredibly authentic and delicious food. As I wrote of our original visit, we will be back!
Martino’s on Vine, Cincinnati, OH
The drive from Kokomo to the Hampton Inn and Suites on Vine Street in Cincinnati was as painless as the earlier leg and we made it to our room about 3:30pm...in time for a walk down Short Vine at the edge of the University of Cincinnati campus. We found Martino’s on Vine and took a quick peek inside in anticipation of our meal later on. While it had the feel of a sports bar, we could also see a dining area away from the bar with booths and tables, one of which was going to be our spot that evening.
At the time we were there, Short Vine was undergoing a pretty major facelift with new condos, new sidewalks and a general makeover. The area certainly had the feel of a college campus, lots of kids wandering about and some youth-based shops and a concert venue theatre. It was remarkably busy for a Tuesday afternoon and it was an interesting walkabout.
After freshening up at the hotel, we made it back to Martino’s at 6:30ish and had no trouble finding an out-of-the-way booth and were greeted by our server, Kayla. We ordered a bottle of their house cabernet and once again were challenged to make a decision as this Martino’s menu is quite extensive as well. We were interested to see that homemade gnocchi was an option and because that’s something our family makes, we were tempted to try it. Carol asked Kayla if we could get a small sample plate and Kayla accommodated us so we opted for Baked Ziti (Carol) and Sausage Saccotino (for me) as our entrées. The red sauce on the gnocchi and both entrées was fantastic...a family recipe once again. And while Carol was only able to finish half her generous portion of the ziti, I polished off my saccotino, even though it too, was very large. Both entrées were fantastic and the salad, garlic bread and breadsticks were a great accompaniment, as was the wine. All in all, a great meal in a relaxed atmosphere.
At some point during the evening, we told Kayla our surname and thankfully, owner Martin Angiulli found time to come see us at our table so we were able to share our reason for our visit that night. It was during that conversation that we found that this Martino’s is named after Martin’s father, Martin, Sr. The name Martin in Italian is, of course, Martino so because the family felt that Martino’s is easier to pronounce and possibly remember than “Angiulli’s”, they opted to name the restaurant as they did.
An interesting aspect of the Martino’s on Vine story revolves around how the business got to Cincinnati. Martin’s son Marty (Martin III) attended the University of Cincinnati on a football scholarship and Martin, who owned a restaurant in Ford City, PA, decided to expand and opened Martino’s on Vine to be closer to his son. He retains the business in Ford City, called Night Court, and travels between the two establishments regularly. So the fact that Martin was in town the night we were there was not lost on us. We feel fortunate to have met Martin and had a chance to get to know him and his family.
The Angiulli’s are from Bari, Italy, a coastal city near the “toe of the boot” and Martin’s father came to this country as did my grandfather, looking for work and settled in Pittsburg, PA, working in the coal mines. Martin, pictured left, remembers growing up in a “family” neighborhood, just as I did and though our surnames are different, this Martino and I have much in common. I was reminded of the bonds that Italian families had in this country in the early part the 20th century, living closely in ethnic neighborhoods in cities and in small towns like Roanoke, Illinois. Just as music and other art forms can connect people who don’t even know each other, our common heritage can nearly instantly make us feel like a part of a new family. It did for us this November evening. And I have a deep instinct that your name doesn’t have to be Martino to be treated thusly at Martino’s on Vine. I think the warmth of the Italian seed buried within the Angiulli family comes out with each meal served. You can taste it...you can feel it.
Carol and I thank Martin, Marty, Patty, Belinda, Kayla and all the folks at Martino’s on Vine for another wonderful memory and while we hope the rest of our “Martino’s” experiences live up to these first three, it will take some doing. But we look so forward to the journey. See you next time!