Restaurants / Openings

PaperCity Exclusive — Romano’s Pizza Family to Open a New Upscale Italian Restaurant: A Slice of New York Style Heaven Moves Right Into Briargrove

BY // 01.25.18

The family behind beloved West Gray favorite Romano’s Pizza is opening a new cousin restaurant named Eatalia. Only the new spot is not about pizza. It’s an upscale Italian spot coming this spring, partly modeled after a groundbreaking New York fixture.

When it comes to Romano’s, it’s all relatives. Cousins Vincenzo Quarto and Francesco Fragale have run the pizza shop at 1528 West Gray for 20 years now. The Calabria, Italy natives have promised “timeless, authentic Italian food” from the start, drawing from their 15-plus years of pizza-making in New York City. Fragale and Quarto are both longtime chefs.

Romano’s will stay timeless, but it’s also time for something new, according to the owners. Francesco Quarto and Frankie Fragale, Vincenzo Quarto and Francesco Fragale’s sons, are set to open the new Italian restaurant in March. Eatalia will be located in the old La Vista space at 1936 Fountain View in the Briargrove area. Its name is inspired by Eataly, New York’s famed food hall and market place.

This next generation of cousins is carrying on the family tradition, but they’ve developed an upscale spot.

A “classy, modern Italian restaurant,” is on the books, Franceso Quarto tells PaperCity.  “It’s going to be modern, very classic, but also family-oriented.

“It’s about families. That’s what keeps us in business.”

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In the spirit of familia, chef Francesco Vergale is making the move from Romano’s to Eatalia. Pizza will follow him there, but regulars may not recognize it.

Romanos is famed for its signature New York style slices. That means wide slices of a hand-tossed pizza, with thick crisp crust along the edge, but thin enough throughout that you can fold your piece in half.

“If you want real, go to Romano’s,” a customer notes during our visit.

At Eatalia, expect to find individual, or small shareable pizzas that are only 12 inches. It may not look straight from New York City, but it certainly won’t be flat bread. “We’re going to create a specialty pizza menu with four or five to choose from,” Franceso Quarto says.

“But we’ll always give customers the chance to make their own,” he adds, with fresh ingredients like prosciutto, Burrata mozzarella, and fresh portabella mushrooms. Meat-lovers favorites have also made the cut. Eatalia will be a place to get your fill of traditional Italian salamis and pepperonis.

Francesco Quarto describes the menu as traditional Southern Italian food, with your typical pastas. They will also serve items not so common on Houston menus, such as baked clams and fresh mussels.

“The newest addition will be the fine cuts of meat,” Francesco Quarto says. The chef never made steak at Romano’s. “But at home we make the best steaks — we think,” he says.

Chef Francesco Fragale’s entree menu will be heavy on pastas. He learned the art of pasta making from his mother Antoinette and his Aunt Caterina Quarto back in the old country.

Lasagna will be made from scratch daily, along with Penne a la Vodka, spaghetti with meatballs, and more.

“Our Spaghetti Carbonara is probably the best I’ve ever tried,” Francesco Quarto says.

You will be able to pair the dishes with wine from the extensive list, showcased in the 10-foot wine wall in the entry of the new restaurant. For the most part, Eatalia will stick to Italian wines and Napa Valley selections.

Franceso Quarto is ready to toast to Eatalia’s full bar. Romano’s strictly offers beer and wine.

“For the new place, we have a few bartenders coming up with some nice, traditional cocktails, some Italian cocktails,” he says.

On the drink list? An “Italian Margarita,” topped with an Italian liqeuer. “Everyone loves liquor,” Francesco Quarto says. In bocca al lupo!

Inside the New Eatalia

With their family as close by as the kitchen, the cousins are not exactly striking out on their own. But they are definitely striking while the iron is hot, Francesco Quarto says.

He and Frankie have been considering opening their own restaurant for the last five or 10 years. The ideas were there, but the timing wasn’t right. They were ambitious but inconsistent.

“We’d be off and on. One year we were really motivated, and then we weren’t,” Francesco Quarto admits. “This is finally the right time.

“My cousin and I have worked here for over seven years. Our fathers feel like we have enough experience to open up our own.”

Romano’s regulars who’ve been tipped off are already buzzing about the projected early March opening. Eatalia will bring a much-needed lunch option to the space on Fountain View.

“Lunch is very limited in that area. There aren’t many options to choose from. We’ll give them a new option,” Francesco Quarto says.

Eatalia wall_paddle
The Italian restaurant will be classy, modern and family-oriented.

What will make Eatalia stand out?

The family’s experience, Quarto believes. Their fathers have been in the business for 35 years now, and he and Frankie have been watching and learning.

“It’s the dedication. It’s making the sauce fresh every morning. It’s making the dough. It’s cutting the cheese fresh every day,” Quarto says.

“It’s a new chapter for all of us. I just had a baby boy. My cousin has a boy. We’re trying to be the fathers our fathers were to us.”

It isn’t a case of let’s go to work and get it over with. “It’s ‘Let’s make everyone happy,’ ” Quarto says.

The building’s design allows the customers to see this philosophy in action. “It’s an exposed, open-kitchen concept. You can view into the kitchen from the dining room and the bar area,” Josh Weisman of Construction Concepts says. Two five-foot windows will look out onto the kitchen.

“They really want their patrons to be able to see the preparation, the freshness, the goodness that goes into what they’re doing,” Weisman says.

The restaurant has a “new, vibrant look” after being completely gutted and torn down to the studs. “We tore everything out to a raw, blank canvas. Then we went back with a full redesign and rebuild,” Weisman says.

Construction Concepts and Francesco Quarto and Frankie Fragale collaborated closely together on the interior concept. The principals spent an entire month really grasping the vision before using Studio 5 to render the design. It includes the open kitchen, the dining room, the private dining room, and the custom-built wine room and wine rack.

“It’s very clean lines. The focus is really on the food and the service,” Weisman says. Francesco Quarto agrees. “It’s modern and classic. The interior’s so modern, and the food is so classic,” he says.

A New Look for Briargrove

Eatalia will be open seven days a week. Mondays through Thursdays, the hours are 11 am to 10 pm. Fridays and Saturdays, it’s 11 am to 11 pm. Sunday is still a puzzle, with brunch as the final piece. The menu is the biggest challenge.

“We don’t want to go overboard or be too plain and simple,” Quarto says. They will know once they get a feel for what the customers order off the regular menu in the first few weeks.

The cousins’ restaurant will be just shy of eight miles away from Romano’s Pizza. “I’m excited for the transition,” Francesco Quarto says. “It will be a totally different experience for both of us.” Different, sure, but comfortable.

“Food is not a challenge. I am confident they’ll like our food,” he says.

Eatalia is more than just a business venture. Opening Eatalia is “a new chapter within the family. It’s a new chapter for all of us,” Francesco Quarto shares.

“I just had a baby boy. My cousin has a boy. We’re trying to be the fathers our fathers were to us.”

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