A culinary journey

PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ 
Angelo's Tavolo executive chef Frank Tardio at work in the kitchen.PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ Angelo's Tavolo executive chef Frank Tardio at work in the kitchen.

By John Cropley

Gazette Business Editor

CLIFTON PARK — Capital Region restaurateur Angelo Mazzone is launching a seven-week, seven-restaurant journey through Italy, and his ancestral homeland is pitching in.

Mazzone Hospitality on Thursday announced Angelo’s Tour of Italy, during which each of the firm’s restaurants will highlight a four-course prix-fixe menu featuring specialities of a specific region of Italy for about a week each. Frank Tardio, executive chef at Angelo’s Tavolo in Scotia, came up with the menus in consultation with the chefs at each of the other restaurants, and the Tavolo will be the first stop as the tour starts Monday — with a focus on the cuisine of the Naples region.

For the tour, Mazzone is partnering with the Italian Trade Commission and Ministry of Agriculture to highlight the Italian food products, which are a key export for the nation, and one it is trying to promote.

Mazzone told The Gazette on Thursday that he had already worked with the Italian officials in promotions through SPAC and at supermarkets run by Golub Corp., which has a partnership of its own with the Italians.

“So we’ve built a very strong relationship with them,” Mazzone said.

The Italians had some money available for promotion and proposed working with one of Mazzone’s restaurants to highlight Italian delicacies.

He countered with the idea of seven restaurants, each with a different region’s cuisine, which is not difficult because most regions — even some metropolitan areas — have their own specialties.

Making it work as seven cohesive menus was a task that fell to Tardio.

“Frank is very artistic, he’s very imaginative, he can put flavors together, and he researches it all,” Mazzone said.

The menus will feature food using Italy’s branding systems — DOP (Denominazione d’Origine Protetta) and IGP (Indicazione Geografica Protetta), which certify the regional origins of the item and protect its identity.

Mazzone cited the delicacy Prosciutto di Parma as an example. Regular prosciutto ham can be made anywhere, but to earn the DOP designation, Prosciutto di Parma must come from a specific area near Parma. The microclimate there is said to give the finished product a unique taste.

In the next valley over the mountain from Parma, there may be something else that residents want to protect and promote as unique — Italy is full of small towns with their own specialties, Mazzone said.

The range of DOP and IGP items that will be featured on Mazzone’s Tour of Italy goes from the very southernmost part of the nation (capers from the island of Pantelleria, almost in Tunisian waters) to the northernmost (speck ham from Alto Adige, near the Austrian border).

In between is a range of specialty olive oils; San Marzano tomatoes from the Campania region and Pachino tomatoes from Sicily; beans from Sarconi, south of Naples; saffron from L’Aquila; and a separate mini-tour through Italian cheese-making, including Grana Padano from the Po River Valley, water buffalo mozzarella from Campana, sheep’s milk pecorino from Tuscany and blue-veined Gorgonzola from the Piedmont region.

BEGAN AT HOME

The Tour of Italy may be an expansion of what Angelo Mazzone has eaten in his own visits to Italy over the years, but his love of the cuisine comes from his childhood in Long Island, rather than his travels overseas.

Mazzone’s grandparents immigrated from Bari, on Italy’s southeast coast, and his dining preferences were indelibly set as he grew up eating food they’d prepared.

“I don’t think there was one Italian woman back then who wasn’t skilled in the kitchen,” he said.

More than 30 years into his restaurant career, he’s served all kinds of food and eaten all kinds at his friends’ and competitors’ restaurants, but he still comes back to his culinary roots.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love great food, I love all kinds of food,” he said. “But I’m really an Italian eater — great red sauce, bread, sausage, meatballs, veal done any way, roasted chicken. Basic Italian food that you remember growing up with.”

Mazzone Hospitality has grown over the years to an operation grossing more than $40 million in annual revenue. Along with the seven restaurants, it operates 23 dining facilities at 16 locations and runs nine banquet/catering facilities. It has about 600 employees now, in its quiet season, and about 1,100 in the busy season, roughly April to December, when catering volume skyrockets.

OUT OF THE KITCHEN

In the process of building the business, Angelo Mazzone has gotten further and further from the kitchen and the dining room, which is where he’d really like to be.

“I tell people all the time, they say, what do you want to do? I say when I grow up I want to own one great restaurant with 10 tables, like in Italy, and bring special food out to people so they enjoy it. It’s just a lifestyle.

“It’s the thing that I miss the most in my position.”

 

Angelo’s Tour of Italy

The seven regions of Italy featured in seven weeks at seven Mazzone Hospitality restaurants:

Naples: Angelo’s Tavolo, Scotia, Jan. 23-29.
Bologna: Tala American Bistro, Latham, Jan. 30-Feb. 4.
Palermo: Aperitivo Bistro, Schenectady, Feb. 6-11.
Rome: Angelo’s 677 Prime, Albany, Feb. 20-25.
Venice: Angelo’s Prime Bar + Grill, Clifton Park, Feb. 27-March 5.
Cagliari: Fish at 30 Lake, Saratoga Springs March 6-12.
Florence: Prime at Saratoga National, Saratoga Springs, March 15-18.