All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed – for the good or bad – over the years.
Just after 9 a.m., Oralia Olguin presses her palms into a football-shaped wad of dough. She leans into it, pressing one half into itself, over and over again.
Gladys Bermudez runs the then-flattened dough through the sheeter, dusting it with flour as she goes. The dough thins and thins, passing through the sheeter multiple times until it's delicately ribboned. Bermudez flours and stacks the layers. She drapes one ribbon of dough over a ravioli mold, puffs snow-white ricotta into each of the wavy-edged squares and lays another ribbon of dough over the whole thing. Bermudez quickly seals the dough layers with the magic of a rolling pin, and perfectly shaped ravioli are born.
Philip Civello, owner of Civello's Raviolismo, has had his storefront since 1989, but ravioli was handcrafted in his family kitchen long before the store. Phil’s aunts made and sold ravioli out their kitchen starting around 1954 using recipes passed down through relatives. Who knows when their ravioli recipe was born?
Around mid-March 1954, The Dallas Morning News ran an ad announcing the grand opening of Civello’s Italian store at 4236 Oak Lawn Ave. The ad promised antipasto, fine wines and “orchids for the ladies.” Civello’s father, Charlie, ran the store, and not long after, he made ravioli by hand. Stuffed with sautéed beef and ricotta cheese, it made its way to restaurants. Joe Campisi was a frequent buyer, and young Phil Civello helped the family pack delicate ravioli into shirt boxes.
You’ll find that same tradition – a pre-chef-driven, Italian-American food culture – in full display in the little Ravilismo on Peak Street in East Dallas.
I’m there in the morning watching a batch of beef ravioli crafted from scratch. The aroma of ground beef mixing with egg, Parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic powder and spinach reminds me of the meatballs of my youth frying in the pan.
Nearby, the Hobart dough mixer, an ancient relic from the '50s Civello’s store, is tangoing with a wad of dough. There are no foraged mushrooms or artisanal fillings – this place exists in a different realm. Ricotta cheese mixes with salt, pepper, garlic and spinach in the gallon-sized plastic container it was packaged in. This place is about simple home-cooking, no matter the provenance of the ingredients. Bring a tennis shoe into Civello's, and they'll make it taste like it was crafted by your grandma.
In one hour, Olguin, Bermudez and Zoila Munoz (who've all been working with Civello at least 20 years) can knock out three boxes of fresh, hand-made ravioli to be delivered to restaurants or bagged, frozen and sold. There are 300 individual ravioli per box.
The aging photos on the wall underscore the tradition: These are the same ravioli Civello’s family has been crafting for 63 years. Then, it was a little cottage industry run out of their home kitchen. Now, it’s a storefront in East Dallas that supplies restaurants and grocery stores with their family recipes. Manicotti, lasagna, soups and sauces are new items; ravioli is the star of the show here. They have spicy Italian sausage, beef and, a long-standing Texas-inspired favorite, black bean and jalapeño.
For decades, long before the lasagna and manicotti, it was all about those savory little pasta pockets.
“They just didn’t do anything else," Phillip Civello says of his aunts. "It was just ravioli.”
Civello's Raviolismo is a humble and clean little factory: There are a few metal tables, the ravioli-crafting equipment, refrigerators and a kitchen in the back. A dry-erase board announces their newer items, including meatballs and manicotti. Hand-made, ready-to-go favorites are the future of Civello’s, Philip says. Eatzi’s wildly popular market inspired him to branch out. For now, you can drop by on a weekday and watch ravioli made with mesmerizing ease.
Later, I take a batch of ricotta and beef ravioli home to pair with my own family’s tomato sauce recipe. Civello’s ravioli are fantastically easy to cook: Drop them frozen into boiling, salty-as-the-ocean water, stir for a bit and then turn down to a simmer. The beef ravioli taste like decades of home-cooking; there’s a garlicky, herbaceous hint of a meatball inside each neatly sealed pocket.
Grab a bag to go, make your own tomato sauce, top with fresh basil and shower on some Parmigiano-Reggiano (purchased down the street at Jimmy’s) and you’ve got a home-cooked meal that will fill you with Dallas-Italian history.
Civello's, 1318 N. Peak St.