Vinny’s at Night
“You gonna have lunch?” says Vinny Migliore, 61, who has been dishing Sicilian-American cuisine from his eponymous East Somerville institution since 1984. Part chef, part P.R. guy, and part joke-cracking entertainer, Migliore provides great food and hospitality in an informal setting. You don’t come to Vinny’s (76 Broadway) for the surroundings; you come here for the food. There’s nothing precious or pretentious about the restaurant – just freshly prepared stick-to-your-ribs fare at modest prices in abundant portions.
He asks me a few questions about what I like, and then rushes back to the kitchen to whip something together (though he won’t tell me what). Within minutes I’m sitting in front of a plate of fusilli smothered in Migliore’s famous tomato sauce next to a platter of perfectly cooked lobster tails, grilled calamari and scallops. I cannot believe my good fortune as I dig in. Everything is subtly seasoned. I’m transported to the North End restaurants of my childhood with one difference: This is much better.
The details distinguish it from other Sicilian-style restaurants: the tomato sauce Migliore makes every day at 5:30 am; the oven-dried cherry tomatoes he slow-roasts overnight for extra depth and richness; the wintery osso bucco, which he offers in both lamb and veal; the meatballs, made from knuckle meat and ground at the restaurant, which he poaches first in seasoned broth and then adds to the sauce; the savory house-made sausages. And then there’s the antipasto table, featuring 18 different antipasti, from roasted eggplant with fresh basil, eight cheeses and his red sauce to stuffed mushrooms made from his mother’s recipe. There’s also his signature arancini, golden rice balls stuffed with cheese, sauce and peas and deep-fried, which he also sells in his deli.
Established as a lunch-only restaurant in 1984, Vinny’s is tucked into the back room of Vinny’s Superette, a sub shop that once housed Migliore’s first business: a variety/convenience store he took over from its original owners in 1969 at the age of 21, fourteen years after he arrived with his family from Sicily. In 1995, Migliore added dinner to the restaurant and renamed evenings “Vinny’s at Night.” Featuring adventurous fare such as rabbit and tripe, Vinny’s At Night has earned a place on Zagat’s top 1000 Italian restaurants in the US; four (out of five) stars on the user-generated rating website Yelp.com; and consistent praise on Chowhound.
For all its acclaim, Vinny’s remains a hidden jewel, owing partly to its East Somerville location. Many customers’ stories are the same: They were introduced by other regulars, became regulars, and in turn introduced their friends, all of whom now fill the dining room at lunch. A few of them trade friendly barbs with staffers Annie Mainey and Carmen Aniello, who have worked lunches at Vinny’s for 24 and 10 years respectively. Ted, a customer for more than eight years, tells me he always has his meetings catered by Vinny’s. “I make sure I order enough to have leftovers to take home,” he says, as he walks out with his leftover pasta from lunch.
Back in the kitchen, members of the Castro family keep things moving, along with Migliore, who put himself through culinary school so that he “wouldn’t be under the thumb of a chef.” During the day Pedro Castro oversees the kitchen with his son, Jose. Pedro’s wife, Yanita, does the prep work along with Freddy Callas, who is also the dishwasher. At night, Pedro’s brother Ever, head cook at Vinny’s for 14 years, manages the always-busy kitchen.
In the sub shop out front, Pedro and Yanita’s daughters work the counter alongside Anthony, Migliore’s brother. Migliore’s sister Grace, who co-owned the building with Migliore until two years ago, when he bought out her share, occasionally stops in on her days off to help out. The chemistry between the Migliores and the Castros is hard to miss. It shows in the food and in the service. “I love the Castros like family,” Migliore says. And then he jokes, “Do you know a girl for Jose? He needs a wife!”
Though he loves a good joke and enjoys teasing his staff, Migliore is dead serious about his food. “I take pride in what I do,” says Migliore. “You don’t have to be Italian to know good food. I deal in quality. People know that and they like what they taste. You give ‘em quality, and they’ll come back.”
I know I will.
Vinny’s (, vinnysonbroadway.com) serves lunch weekdays from 11am to 3pm and dinner from 4:30pm to 10:30pm Tuesday through Saturday. The deli is open seven days a week from 6am to 8pm. Reservations are accepted and takeout orders are welcome.