I stayed in the Elkhart area on a recent trip out to Northwest Indiana and I was looking for Italian food that evening. One of the ladies at the front desk at the hotel I was staying at was telling me of an old-world-style Italian restaurant in Elkhart. "It's kind of a drive from here," she said. "But if you've got the time, I think it's worth it." She gave me the address to Antonio's Italian Ristorante on Goshen Ave. in Elkhart. (see map)
Not knowing much more about the place other than the name and address, I found out after the fact that Antonio's Italian Ristorante has a somewhat interesting past. It started with Antonio Cataldo, a native of Gerace in the Calabria region of far southern Italy. Antonio came to the United States in 1962 and found work at Taylor Products, a factory in the Elkhart area. In 1966 with his feet on the ground, he sent for his wife, his three sons and his two daughters to join him in Elkhart.
In 1979, Antonio helped his middle son Bruno start his own restaurant - Bruno's Pizza. The youngest Cataldo son, Paolo - also known as Paul - worked in the restaurant with his big brother for a time. In the mid-90's, a fire destroyed much of the building that housed Bruno's Pizza. A devastated Bruno Cataldo wanted to throw in the towel and sell the business, but his father wouldn't have anything to do with that. The Cataldo's rebuilt the business with Paul taking over the restaurant and renaming it Antonio's, using many of the same family recipes that they brought over from Southern Italy in the early 60's. Bruno wasn't down in the dumps for long and he went on to open a new Bruno's Pizza in Elkhart.
Pictured right - Paul Cataldo in his kitchen. Picture courtesy Elkhart Truth.
It turns out that Paul and Bruno are also world class pizza makers. Both brothers have competed in the World Pizza Championships as individuals, and Paul has been a member of the U.S. pizza team in the championships, as well. Paul's focaccia crust deep-dish pizza was named the 38th best pizza in the world in the 2008 Championships in Italy, while a year before Bruno's thin-crust pizza with minimal cheese took 42nd place the year before. Paul Cataldo continues to compete in pizza competitions as a member of the World Pizza Champions Team that competes at various events around the U.S. and in Italy. Paul Cataldo recently garnered a third place finish with a thick-crust Sicilian-style gourmet pizza in this year's North American Pizza and Ice Cream Show that was part of the Mid-American Restaurant Expo held in Columbus, OH earlier this year.
Had I known about Paul's prowess with pizza, I probably would have gone to Antonio's for that. But I really wanted pasta with a rich tomato sauce that evening and that's what I had my heart set on when I pulled into Antonio's around 7:30 p.m. Entering the restaurant I was greeted by a young lady at the hostess stand. The dining room behind her was full of people when I walked in - a good sign, I thought. The room was made up to look like a Southern Italy terrace with rustic style walls and wood slats with faux vines hanging from the ceiling. It was a nice little room - too bad it was full.
I ended up being seated in what was the bar area of Antonio's. I'm guessing that the Italian-style dining room had been added on at some point as the bar was more worn than the dining room. Still, it was a cozy enough place to have dinner. I was given a table in the corner, handed a menu and was soon greeted by my server for the evening, a pleasant lady by the name of Diana.
The entree listing on the menu at Antonio's was extensive. They had a number of pasta dishes including pasta in a house-made vodka sauce that Paul is sort of famous for, seafood ravioli in an alfredo sauce, and a pasta pescatore that featured shrimp, scallops, crab meat, clams and mussels, all served with angel hair pasta and topped with a marinara sauce. The entrees also included either chicken parmesan or chicken marsala dish, egg plant parmesan, a pan-seared Mediterranean sea bass, and a baked salmon in a lemon and herbed oil.
I started out getting a glass of the William Hill Coastal Cabernet that I thought was nicely priced at $6 a glass. And it was a healthy pour, at that. Before my entree came out, I got a house salad with a basket of fresh baked bread. The salad was topped with a housemade oil and vinegar dressing and featured fresh iceberg lettuce with sliced cucumbers, chopped carrots and a couple of cherry tomatoes. The bread was warm and very tasty.
I was sort of torn between a couple three things for my main entree. I was looking at the spicy Italian sausage dish tossed with garlic, shallots, sun dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives in a cream sauce and served with flat pappardelle pasta noodles. The lasagna - even with the lack of a description on the menu other than "family recipe" - was also appealing. But I ended up getting the sausage saccottini in an arrabiatta sauce. I didn't really know what it was, but Diana highly recommended it when I asked about it.
And I was glad that I got it. Saccottini is a type of ravioli, only smaller, that was stuffed with a housemade Italian sausage. The arrabbiata sauce - arrabbiata translates into "angry" in Italian - was made with crushed tomatoes, garlic and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. It was slightly spicy to my taste buds and it was a very zippy dish. The small sausage-filled saccottini pillows tasted great in the sauce. With a bit of shredded mozzarella on the top, this was exactly the type of Italian meal I was looking for that evening.
Along with the sausage saccotini in the arrabbiata sauce, I got one of Antonio's meatballs. It was ground veal, beef, and pork mixed together with Italian seasonings and bread crumbs and it was very good. The pasta in the slightly spicy sauce with the meat ball mixed in was excellent. I was able to finish the whole dish and I wasn't full, nor was I still hungry. The meal was a perfect spot hitter for me.
Now I'm going to have to figure out how to make it back to Antonio's to try one of Paul Cataldo's famous pizzas. If the pizza is better than the saccotini stuffed with housemade Italian sausage and served in the somewhat spicy arrabbiata sauce that I had, then it truly has to be world class pizza. The service was good, the atmosphere was comforting and laid back, and the food was exactly what I hoped it would be. And I felt it was a very good value, as well. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Antonio's Italian Ristorante.