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Rao's has been located at 455 East 114th Street in East Harlem since 1896. It was originally a saloon, one room with a bar, purchased by Charles Rao, and as the current owners of Rao's state on their website, "Tradition and ritual are the heart and soul of Italian cuisine. Since 1896, the Rao's family has believed in sharing those traditions." Rao's is also reportedly one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in the country. Charles' son Vincent ended up owning the restaurant with his aunt, Anne Pellegrino, and then it came to be co-owned by Frank Pellegrino Sr. (who died in 2017, as Fortune reported), his son, Frank Pellegrino Jr., and Vincent's nephew, Ron Straci.
Frank Pellegrino Sr., the late co-owner of Rao's, told Famous Foodies, "It's a throwback, it goes to another era. My grandmother, my grandfather, my aunts, my uncles, this is what they brought to America. ... That's my objective, that's my goal, is to carry on that ancestry, to honor it, to respect it, and to share it with the people who come here."
Rao's has also displayed Christmas decorations all year round for over seventy years. Pellegrino Sr. said, "What it really means ... [is] every day in America is Christmas. Every day. So therefore, they will never come down."
Rao's is a ten-table restaurant — four tables and six booths — and that's obviously one of the reasons why it's practically impossible to get a reservation. But there's more to it than that. The turning point where Rao's went from a well-kept secret to the hardest restaurant to get into came in 1977, when dining critic Mimi Sheridan gave it a three-star review in The New York Times (via Vanity Fair). After the review ran, the phone began ringing off the hook and never stopped. As Frank Pellegrino Sr. explained to Famous Foodies, "That's when I started assigning tables. I figured out the only way I could protect those who were loyal to us ... was by giving them tables. ... Every table, every night, has been booked since 1977."
Rao's regulars have their own table assignments (weekly, monthly, or otherwise), and these were set in stone by Frank Pellegrino Sr. and Anna Pellegrino (per Vanity Fair). When the members who have table rights pass on, their family usually inherits the table. Those who have a table can arrive whenever they want on their assigned night, or they can lend it out. Essentially, for a newcomer to come in, they have to know one of the regulars.
Indeed, Frank Sr. earned the nickname Frankie No because he turned down so many people trying to get in. Ironically, there were times when Frankie had to call a table regular to see if they were willing to give up their place — and if they turned him down, even Frankie No couldn't get a table in his own restaurant (per Famous Foodies).
The menu at Rao's – which is used at the Los Angeles location — consists of Italian family recipes that came from Frank Pellegrino Sr.'s grandmother Paulina, his aunt Anna, and his Uncle Vincent, according to Bon Appétit. The meatballs at Rao's are a thing of legend, and they're made with ground veal, pork, beef, and seasoned breadcrumbs. Uncle Vincent's chicken is also a popular dish, where the chicken is charcoal broiled and topped with Vincent's personal lemon sauce (via USA Today).
The New York location has no menu. As USA Today explains, one of the owners "pulls up a chair and runs through a litany of pasta, seafood, veal and chicken options, basically making whatever you want ... the waiter kneels at the table while explaining the menu." Dinner costs about $75 a person, they don't take credit cards — you have to pay with cash or check only, according to Vanity Fair.
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RAO'S JOHN'S & MONTE'S
Yes, it was the great Ernest Hemingway who inspired me to write. And it wasn't just his great writings but the man and the life he led. For Hemingway was the ultimate Man's Man as they say. He was rough and tumble and didn't take crap from know one. A lady's man Ernest Hemingway was, a hunter, adventurer, traveler, writer, and mercenary. The man's life was even more interesting than the characters in his books.
The first book I read by Ernest Hemingway was a required read in High School English Class when we were assigned to read and study The Old Man & The Seas, Hemingway's great classic novel of the old Cuban fisherman Santiago in Havana, Cuba and his fight and struggles to fight a great fish, a fight that mimics the struggles of life.
I read just about everything Hemingway I could get my hands on; all his novels, his short stories, and biography's and articles written on the great writer of prose. I read a Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises (my favorite), the complete short stories, magazine articles, and the bibliography "Papa Hemingway" by close friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner.
I traveled in the footsteps of Hemingway, going to his homes in Key West and Havana, Cuba. I bought a book called Hemingway;s Paris, and I followed in the footsteps of the great writer, going to all his favorite restaurants and cafes. I ate Choucroute at Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard Saint Michel in Paris, I had drinks at Cafe Select and Closerie des Lilas, both on the Boulevard Montparnasse. I strolled the Luxenbourg Gardens, and at escargots and drank Beaujolais at Polidor, just like Ernest did. Yes I wanted to be Hemingway, I tried and tried, but I would never come anywhere near close to being the writer that Ernest Hemingway was. I could write nice little short stories, but a novel? No way. I have become a writer, I know, not a great one, not by a long shot, but a writer never-the-less, and a published and Best Selling Author at that, no less, but no Hemingway. But my writings do serve a purpose, and many do like (even love) my writings (books). I write about Italian Food, Italy, and the Italian, and Italian-American lifestyle and culture. I write little stories about Italian Food, Italian-Americans, Italy, and Italians, and people seem to like them.
Hemingway helped teach me to write, and I taught myself to write with the help of the great Ernest Hemingway and other writers. I't go to my favorite cafe in Greenwich Village, Caffe Dante, and I'd write. I'd write and write and practice as much as I could. I'd read and write, trying to hone my craft, the craft of writing. I dreamed of writing a great novel as all writers do. This would not happen. Who knows, maybe it will one day, but don't count on it. I don't, but you never know, someday my writing skills may one day develop enough to do so, "one never knows."
Before I ever started writing, I'd never known that I'd be able to write and have a book published, did I? I now have seven books published and three of them have become best sellers and I am a Best Selling Author, but not of novels. I wish I could write a great screenplay, that would be made into a successful movie, but as of now? No way, but I have had some good success and I'm quite happy the way things have developed. I make some money at it, I'm not rich, and I still have my day job, but I love what I do, and I am quite happy doing all this. Going to the cafe, just about every day, and I write, I promote, and I learn, all thanks to Hemingway, the man who inspired me. To write.
Daniel Bellino Zwicke
My 1st Book. My first book was La Tavola. How I wrote it, and how quick I wrote it was quite amazing. Of course I had always wanted to write a book, I started one called The Bachelors Cookbook, but I never finished it. I didn't have the tools, or a formula. After starting that first book, The Bachelors Cookbook was a cookbook to teach and help bachelors how to cook, but not only that. It was a book to teach bachelors (single men) how to cook, and subsist on their own, and how to save money by cooking and make life easier and more enjoyable for themselves. But there was another major angle to the book, and that was how to meet and romance women, by learning and knowing how to cook for them, and how by doing so would greatly enhance you chance of having romantic interludes and relationships with the opposite sex, women. Well I thought, that this was all great, and it was and is, and now that I'm reading this, and rehashing on this great idea of mine, and I now have quite a lot of experience, know-how and all that, that I think it's high-time that I do it. I now have the formula.
The formula? What is it you ask? Well, I do have a very good writing formula to write and produce good non-fiction books. For me, non-fiction is a whole lot easier to write than fiction, which I know I'm not great at, but non-fiction is a whole other thing, and I do believe I'm pretty good at this, and my track record has proven so with 7 books, three of them Best Sellers.
So back to my formula, what is it you ask? Well, the whole ting is to # 1 have a Theme of what you book is going to be about. For me, I write about food, travel, and experiences regarding these subjects and subject matter. I write mostly about food and to be more specific Italian and Italian-American Food and lifestyles. I'll think up a them, Sunday Sauce for example, and then building a book around this. Sunday Sauce is the famed Italian-American dish, also known as gravy, that Italian-Americans eat each and every Sunday all over America, and especially in the great Italian Americans enclaves of New York, Boston, New Jersey, Baltimore, Brooklyn, and other parts of the country that have Italian neighborhoods with a strong Italian population that includes business such as Italian Restaurants, caffes, Pork Stores, Bakeries, specialty shops, Italian Butcher Shops, and the like, necessary for Italian living.
When you have your theme, you need to make an outline with topics and sub-topics that pertain to the main theme of the book. So with my book Sunday Sauce I had an outline that included such topics as Meatballs, the Pork Store, Pasta and other topics that pertained to Sunday Sauce, how to make it, the rituals around it. as well as stories and antidotes that tied into this main theme of the book.Taking the topic of pasta, several sub-topics to pasta in my book Sunday Sauce were; Spaghetti Vongole (Clam Sauce), Spaghetti Meatballs, Tomato Sauce and other topics. Once I had my outline, I'd write one-by-one on each topic in the outline. Each topic was a chapter in the book and I'd knock them off one at a time. It was easy. Now I've had a lot of different experiences as far as Italian Food and cooking go. I have a great repertoire of recipes that are in my books, so I tell stories about the food, the dishes, I have my recipes that are included in the book, and my books are a collection of Italian recipes as stories of all the different dishes in the great repertoire of Italian Cuisine. And a large part of all this is to inspired people to cook wonderful Italian dishes, and to bring friends and family together at the dinner table. This is what it's all about; cooking tasty Italian Food, eating with friends and family, and having wonderful times around the table. This is my passion, and that's a Key element . in all of this. if you have a passion, write about it, and it all should come together easily. And so this is how I do it all. This is how I've had seven books published, and I keep doing it. I enjoy it. I love it, and hope you will to. Good Luck.