Chapter Four of this saga began with our first “Martino’s” outside the United States and the finding of another potential relative. It also included two pizza joints where the young folks we found working there had no idea how the places got the name Martino’s...although I haven’t given up trying to find out. It ended with perhaps the most unique eatery we’ve found thus far so all in all, this will be a memorable entry for me...I hope it is for you, too.
Mamma Martino’s Restaurant, Toronto, Ontario
Of the 30 restaurants we’ve discovered so far that are called “Martino’s” in one form or another, this Toronto eatery is the first outside the USA that we’ve visited. When Carol and I began looking at a trip to the New York Finger Lakes Wine District, every scenario included a swing through Toronto and Niagara Falls on the way out. I would have wanted to take Carol to Toronto even without the incentive of Mamma Martino’s as I’d visited the city a few times while working at Caterpillar and really thought it was beautiful.
We left home on a Sunday morning in July 2013 and stopped for the night in Brighton, MI to have dinner with our great friend Pete Rosenkrands. We were off early the next morning and made it to Toronto just as Mamma Martino’s was opening for lunch. We were greeted and seated by our hostess Jane and a few minutes later our server Laura took our drink order...a glass each of the house red. Carol had the Bruno Salad (we found out later the significance of the name) and I had a small cheese pizza. The food was excellent and once again, the homemade red sauce at this Italian eatery provided a great foundation for the pie.
After the meal, we told Jane about our Martino Quest and she told us that Bruno Martino, the owner and creator of his namesake salad, was not at the restaurant that morning, much to my chagrin. But not surprisingly based on our good fortune throughout this adventure, Bruno unexpectedly popped in to “take care of a couple things” so we were able to spend a few minutes getting to know our long lost “cousin”. Bruno told us that he and his parents opened the restaurant in 1983. Mamma and Papa Martino’s families had emigrated from the Molise area of Italy in the early 1900’s as did my grandparents. Papa (Fernando) still lives on site and regularly visits the restaurants but Mamma passed on in 2007. The restaurant still offers a diverse menu of Mamma’s recipes...homemade pastas, pizza and other Italian delicacies. The only regret we had is that we were just there for a quick lunch and could only sample the smallest percentage of Mamma Martino’s bill of fare. Perhaps we’ll get back to Toronto someday and rectify that.
Bruno very kindly gifted Carol and me with several souvenirs including a 30th anniversary apron for Carol and a 20th anniversary t-shirt for me. These gifts that we receive from the kind folks at the Martino’s we visit are precious heirlooms to us...reminders of the great adventure we’re on but more importantly, they are connections to the great people we have met and will meet while we’re on it. We feel very fortunate to have met Bruno and though we may not really be related, I will always consider Bruno and his family our cousins in Canada. Thanks to all the folks at Mamma Martino’s for a great memory during this quest.
Check out some great photos and Mamma’s menu on their website by clicking HERE.
Martino’s Restaurant, Rochester, NY
After a day and night in Niagara Falls, we headed towards the Finger Lakes with a stop for lunch at Martino’s in Rochester, NY. This versatile restaurant opens at 8:00am with choices such as breakfast pizzas and breakfast burritos. We arrived for an early lunch around 10:30am and found a young man named Mike manning the place by himself. Mike had his hands full but he was able to answer a few questions between fielding to-go and delivery phone calls and taking our order. He was not able to tell us how the restaurant got the name “Martino’s” but he suspected it was the name of the original owner. The current owner, Jennifer Leone, has been at the helm since 1997 and based on a brief observation, runs a pretty tight ship. Catering is also an important part of the business and considering the diversity of the menu and the local competition, Jennifer is doing something right.
When we don’t find a connection back to someone with our surname, the magic isn’t there for us but I can’t help but think that somewhere in the past, someone named Martino had something to do with this restaurant and that makes the visit worthwhile. And by the way, the cheese pizza Carol and I shared was excellent.
If you’d like to see just how diverse this Martino’s menu is, click HERE.
Martino’s Pizzeria, Webster, NY
After spending three days in the New York Finger Lakes wine district, we began a three day journey home with a couple more important destinations on the way. The first was a swing through Webster, NY for a visit to another remarkably diverse eatery, Martino’s Pizzeria. We once again arrived in time for an early lunch and found two young men, Chris and Jordan, getting things started on a late Saturday morning. We once again went with a cheese pizza and once again, found it to be very good. The cheese and sauce were both wonderful and when you keep a pizza relatively simple, you get a good feel for the quality of ingredients. Plus, we really enjoy a good cheese pizza.
Jordan was not able to say how the restaurant got its name but we were able to get a bit of info from some press hanging on the wall of the restaurant. It seems that brothers-in-law Guiseppe Mannino from Italy and Abel Tobar from Ecuador purchased the restaurant in 2006. While Mannino is no longer in the picture, the restaurant maintains its popularity in the area and much of that, according to Tobar, is due to the reputation that the Martino’s name enjoys and is the reason the name wasn’t changed when the new ownership took over.
Martino’s in Webster has a great tagline...”Martino’s Pizzeria, Where Life is Worth Eating!” I’m not sure I could say it any better.
Check out Martino’s Pizzeria menu HERE.
Martino’s International Café, Vermilion, OH
The last leg of this week-long odyssey was a night in Vermilion, Ohio and a much anticipated dinner at Martino’s International Café. I had perused the Martino’s menu many times via their website before this trip, and even with all that research, I hadn’t a clue what I was going to order til our server Rhema was there to take it. If you find that difficult to believe, you need to look at their menu. The name “International Café” is not remotely an exaggeration. They have dishes with origins in Italy, Germany, France, Thailand, Poland, England, Hungary and on and on. It was a delightfully challenging decision and since I’m Italian and most of the Martino’s we’ll visit on this quest are Italian, I went with their lasagna...but more on the food later.
When we got to town that Sunday afternoon, we immediately found the restaurant to get some pictures. We tend to do that if we can, in order to get the photos without lots of cars in front of the restaurant. That didn’t work out very well this time as the place was packed at 1:30pm...a testament to the eatery’s popularity in Vermilion. While we were there, we booked a table for the evening and when we told the hostess our name, she was understandably intrigued so we told her why we had driven all the way from Peoria, IL just to dine at their restaurant. I asked if there were Martinos still involved with the operation and when she said no and couldn’t tell us how the place got its name, she suggested we could ask owner Jim Trinter when we came back for dinner later that evening. So that was the plan.
We took a bit of a drive around town before dinner but we ended up getting to Martino’s about 20 minutes ahead of our 6:00pm reservation because by then, we were famished. We were seated in a small alcove just inside the door and it was a nice, private table. After ordering a bottle of wine, we once again went through the extensive menu and as I said, I opted for the lasagna and Carol went with spaghetti and meatballs. Both feature the Martino’s homemade red sauce and it was absolutely delicious. It had a sweetness that paired so well with the sausage and cheeses in my lasagna and with the meatballs in Carol’s entrée. Our compliments to Chef Katie!
Jim was able to stop by our table and spend a few minutes with us. He told us that they had opened in July of 1996 as “International Tastees”, specializing in the most popular international dishes. After upgrades and expansions, Jim decided to change the name to Martino’s International Café which of course begged the question, “where did the Martino come from?” Turns out, Jim’s middle name is Martin and as a youngster, his uncle called him "Jimmy Martino” so mystery solved! The best part of the story is how one customer reacted to the name change. Shortly after re-opening with the latest upgrades and the new moniker, Jim was helping to bus tables one evening when a local resident said to him, “Boy Jim, this new owner Martino really has made some big improvements.” Priceless!
We thank Jim and everyone at Martino’s International Café for a great meal and some wonderful souvenirs. We look so forward to continuing this wonderful adventure and to meeting more great folks like we met on this trip.
Do me a favor and look at the many and varied dishes offered at Martino’s by clicking HERE.