Pietro Eustachio smiles as he looks at my plate of fresh fettuccine, tossed in a red tomato sauce and sautéed onions and thin, rectangular slices of prosciutto. He asks how I’m doing. I’ve already cleaned off a plate of fried ravioli, dipped in tomato sauce, and a warming minestrone.
A woman walks in, notices Eustachio and embraces him. “Hello, honey,” Pietro says to her. She kisses Pietro's cheek and says, “How are you, darling?”
“You remember Art,” the woman says, gesturing to the man standing beside her. He’s wearing a Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt and a ball cap. “We just came from chemo, so he wanted to come in and eat here.” They chat for a minute and grab a seat in the dining room, near two other couples. One of the couples has been coming to Pietro’s for 50 years.
Eustachio reminds me of my grandfather immediately. His hand quakes a bit on the table as he talks, and he speaks in the same tone, soft and succinct. He turns to me and says, “You enjoy everything, all right? My chef will make it for you.”
That was the moment I welled up. Late into 2016, my grandfather passed away. He lived Baltimore, but our family has roots in Sicily — Marsala specifically, and Palermo — where Pietro Eustachio was born. Sitting and talking casually with Eustachio, his food and voice and even the way he walks around the restaurant remind me of my family. Eustachio is a true Sicilian.
Pietro’s Italian Restaurant is without question an Italian food and family bright spot in Dallas. In about five weeks, it’ll close for good.
Another couple comes in, Tim Magrath from Norman, Oklahoma, thin with a surfer-dude look, and his mother who lives in Dallas. When Magrath saw on Facebook that Pietro’s was closing, he drove down to eat here with his mom. Just for Pietro’s. Magrath holds his hand flat near his waist to display his height the last time he was at the restaurant.
With pasta in front of me at Pietro’s, I feel a wave of sadness wash over me. It’s what you feel when you’re eating at an honest family place, one that’s about to close, that you’ve missed out on for years.
“I’m 78 years old. I don’t want to work anymore,” Eustachio says. “I want to enjoy my grandkids.” He moved to America in 1959 with his brothers and parents. His cousin Santo Spataro, also from Sicily, has been cooking in the kitchen for 40 years. Veal parmigiano, fresh linguine with red clam sauce, spaghetti and meatballs — the ageless, food-trendless dishes that taste like home — have always been favorites.
Before moving to 5722 Richmond Ave., tucked in next to a blur of construction and change that would be Lowest Greenville, Pietro’s was at The Grape’s current location. They left that spot about a decade after opening, and Eustachio has been living above the restaurant. He’s in the kitchen every day, of course. The restaurant has changed a little (long-time customers point out a “new” stained glass window), but it’s more akin to a living room. A serene, wall-spanning mural of Venice stands at the back wall of the wine-colored carpet of the dining room.
“I like everything. We make our own bread. We make our own pasta. We make our own minestrone. We do everything. We make our own fettuccine. My wife makes homemade cannoli,” Eustachio says. He starts every statement with an affirmation: “Oh yeah ...”
He knocks on the wood of the table when he says that Greenville’s been good to him. “I’m ready to retire,” he says with the grin of a granddad who asks for a dance with his granddaughter.
Pietro’s will close for good on Feb. 20. It’s a spot that we should remember long after it closes, and bring our families to before it shuts down.
I know I will.
Pietro’s Italian Restaurant, 5722 Richmond Ave.