Food is known to hold powerful memories. Food from childhood can elicit the most intense of them and that's precisely what John and Joe Lanni, along with partner Alex Blust, are trying to do at Pepp & Dolores.
The Lannis, owners of the Thunderdome Group (Bakersfield, The Eagle, City Bird, Krueger’s, Currito, and Maplewood), grew up in Hamilton as the children of Italian immigrants. Their daily life was filled with Sunday sauce and tables full of family and neighborhood kids alike. You can sense that throughout the restaurant, which feels like an old school Italian joint from the east coast. It's named for their parents.
Pepp and Dolores isn’t cutting any corners, even with no item on the menu over $20. Pasta is made in-house in a room you can see from the sidewalk outside. The Sunday sauce—a recipe similar to the one Joe still makes every week—is a favorite on the menu, with a giant meatball and hunk of braised pork shoulder. The Dunk, which Joe explains is a tradition from the brothers’ childhood, features bread from Allez Bakery, parmesan, and fresh herbs.
Vegetarians have plenty of choices: pesto pasta, agnolotti with butternut squash and mascarpone, pasta al limone, eggplant involtini, and others. If you're looking to splurge, try squid ink fusilli with nduja and lobster broth. At $19, it’s the most expensive thing on the menu.
My advice? Order a cicchetti (appetizer) or two; the deep-fried artichokes with lemon vinaigrette are shockingly light and fresh, or dive into a couple of pasta dishes to share. Don’t miss the contorni (sides), especially the broccolini and the meatballs.
Aside from the imported-from-Italy amaretti cookies, there's no dessert. Try the limoncello service with their housemade lemon-thyme liqueur instead.
The wine list ranges from wines on tap to bottles, including a 2008 Brunello di Montalcino ($120). The whole list is Italian and approachable. If you're not familiar with Italian wines, your server or bartender can give you some favorites based on the grapes you like. And if you're not into wine, the Fratelli Libre, a play on a Fernet and Coke, is carbonated on-site in custom “Have a Coke” bottles with Pepp or Dolores’ name on them.
Also, be sure to slip down to the basement bar that's filled with family photos and cards from a traditional Italian game called Scopa. It’s cozy and intimate; great for a quick drink or a meal in the banquettes. The menu is the same as upstairs, but the vibe is less dining room and more Grandpa’s (very cool) basement.
- - -
Pepp & Delores is located at 1501 Vine Street (45202).