November 23, 2011

Resident big-screen tough guy Chazz Palminteri—of A BronxTale and The Usual Suspects fame—recently added restaurateur to hisresume, bringing a slice of his New York neighborhood to Baltimore’s Harbor East area. Aptly named Chazz:A Bronx Original, the family-friendly Italian spot is a partnership between theOscar-nominated actor and the local Vitale family. Palminteri paid a visit to theTravel + Leisure offices to talk about his latest venture.

Q: What inspired you to open a restaurant?

A: “I always wanted to open a restaurant. But we all knowthe story: Hollywood actor partners up with aspirational childhood friends,opens to media attention, and the restaurant fails because of management orfood issues. I always knew I had to find the right partners—serious restaurateurs who knew how toput out great food consistently, but also manage the restaurant professionally.And I finally found that in the Vitale brothers, Sergio and Alessandro. They grewup in the restaurant business and run one of the best Italian restaurants I’veever been to, bar none—Aldo’s in Baltimore—and they shared my vision. Also,food has played an important role in my life since I was young and living inthe Bronx. I would wake up and smell the sausage and peppers coming through thewindows and wanted to share that experience with everyone else. When you walkinto Chazz, you walk into a little piece of my life—the sights, the smells, thetastes—and I’m so happy to share that.

Q: How often are you there?

A: “I am there whenever I have time off, at least once ortwice a month. It’s exciting because no one ever knows when I am going to bethere and they’re surprised when they see me sitting at my table, eating pasta.I take photos, sign autographs, and try to make everyone feel welcome. It’sjust like being in the old neighborhood, in the Bronx.”

Q: How is owning a restaurant like or unlike acting in amovie?

A: “There are so many moving parts to a great restaurant. It’sjust like directing a film.  Thousands of questions, every day. There are decisionsthat will impact the experience of what you’re trying to create and they needto be made on the fly. Directing a movie and running a restaurant both take alot of planning, an amazing amount of attention to detail, and creativity. Themain difference is that once a movie is finished, it’s done and you can stopthinking about it. Running a restaurant takes work every day. It’s a work inprogress, it’s never finished and always improving.”

Q: Why should people come to the restaurant?

A: “First and foremost, they should come to the restaurantbecause we have the best pizza around. Our Bronx-style pizza is made in acustom coal oven that reaches 1,000 degrees.  It’s thin in the middle, likeNeapolitan pizza, but it has a light, crisp crust like the best New York–stylepizza. We top it with only fresh mozzarella and fresh tomatoes, and ourpepperoni is made for us by hand by a family in New York. Also, everyone hasfun at Chazz. You can sit at the pizza altar’ and watch your pizza cook in theoven, you can sit at a table with friends and family, or you can enjoy ahandcrafted cocktail and some veal meatball sliders at the bar.”

Q: What are a few of your favorite Italian restaurants,besides Chazz: A Bronx Original, of course?

A: “The restaurant that inspired my partnership with the Vitale’s,Aldo’s in Baltimore. Chef Aldo Vitale (Sergio and Alessandro’s father) has sucha light touch with the way he makes food, it’s incredible. Whenever I make itback to the Bronx, I visit Robert’s. And I had the best linguine alle vongole at a restaurant right on the beach in Sicily. If I could remember the name ofthat place, I would fly there today to get it again. It was incredible.”

Q: What is your perfect Italian meal?

A: “Well, I have this test. I always test the kitchen of anItalian restaurant by ordering a dish of linguine marinara. With a dishas simple as that, you can tell if the kitchen knows what they’re doing. Thepasta needs to be perfectly al dente, so you can see the starch glistening againstthe sauce. The sauce has to be well-made, and there can’t be too much of it.Great extra virgin olive oil. A hint of basil and parmigiano. It’s alitmus test in its simplicity, which is what Italian food is all about to me:balance and simplicity. Good Italian food is as much about what you decide toleave out as what you put in. So for me, a small dish of great pasta, a salad(I really like the roasted beet salad we do at Chazz: A Bronx Original), andmaybe a little veal Milanese or grilled fish.”

Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.

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