Brothers share seafood-heavy Italian restaurants

February 23, 2010 12:28:58 PM PST
The season of Lent is under way, which means many Christians are giving up meat on Fridays, at least until Easter.Food reporter Steve Dolinsky found a couple of seafood-heavy Italian restaurants in the suburbs linked by a pair of brothers.

The Barbanente family's tentacles reach far into both the city and the suburbs. Their native home is Puglia, on the Adriatic coast - essentially the "heel" of Italy's boot. All six of the siblings are involved in the restaurant business, and all of them got their start at big brother Vito's Place, in Franklin Park.

Vito Barbanente grew up near the sea, and his childhood in Puglia, Italy has affected both his career, as well as his five siblings. For the past 34 years, his Pescatore Palace in Franklin Park has been an incubator for other restaurants all over the region.

"We come from fishing village in Italy, and all our relatives are fishermen. So, we know fish. We know how to cook fish. We know how to eat fish. So, when we came to America, we said, 'Hey, we're going to open the name Pescatore,'" said Barbanente.

Barbanente takes pride in his Adriatic "Mixed Grill," featuring a platter worthy of Poseidon: plump shrimp, whole baby octopus, tender cuttlefish and pristine sea bass. His frutti di mare is a Lenten fantasy: a sautee of oysters, shrimp, baby clams and mussels, infused with garlic and white wine.

Even the baccala - fresh salt cod - is meaty and dense, coated in fresh tomatoes and paired with ornate discs of polenta.

The kitchen has been an education for the entire family.

"We all grew up in this restaurant, Pescatore, with all my brothers. We have four brothers and two sisters. They all grew up here, and then everybody branched out, and they do great business wherever they go," Barbanente said.

One of those places is Lincolnwood, site of 25-year-old Via Veneto, the family-run operation from Vito's younger brother, Tony.

"Well, about 65 percent is mostly from our native city, but it's a lot of seafood. But we try to create specials from regions all over Italy," Tony Barbanente said.

He's trying to keep the recipes straightforward and familiar. His zuppa di pesce begins simple enough: calamari, shrimp and salmon but just keeps building. There's also clams, octopus and mussels. A little white wine is added to the pan, along with a slightly-thick, homemade marinara.

While that steams, Barbanente sautees stuffed calamari, again, topping it with marinara. Both dishes are served over linguini, just like his big brother taught him.

"I just love cooking, and he taught me. And he's one of the best chef's, I think," Barbanente said.

Is there such thing as a sibling rivalry after all these years?

"I think we're pretty much equally the same," said Barbanente.

Other restaurants in the family include Sapori Trattoria in Lakeview and Amore Mio in Hoffman Estates.

Pescatore Palace
3400 N. River Rd., Franklin Park

Via Veneto
6340 N. Lincoln Ave.

Also mentioned:

Amore Mio
1457 Palatine Rd., Hoffman Estates

Sapori Trattoria
2701 N. Halsted St.

Additional Options:

Pasta d'arte
6311 Milwaukee Ave.
(773) 763-1181

Nonna Silvia
1400 North Canfield Ave., Park Ridge
(847) 292-9970

Fornello Trattoria
1011 West Irving Park Rd.
(773) 404-2210