Ever since Rubino first slipped “
specials” onto the menu, he’s kept a sharp
eye on customers’ changing tastes and
“We keep up with the times,” Rubino
days. You’re a vegetarian? The lunch
menu features a Vegetable Hoagie
stuffed with roasted peppers, spinach,
eggplant and provolone. Watching
your cholesterol? Choose broiled fish,
chicken or veal.
None of Rubino’s culinary innovations has overshadowed the presence of
his predecessors. Grandpa Francesco,
Uncle Ralph and Aunt Eleanor still look
down from the restaurant’s walls. Wherever you sit, their eyes aren’t following
you—they’re following the waiters. Making sure things are done right. ( When
you go, bring cash. Ralph’s doesn’t
accept credit cards. But then, neither
does your family.)
cookbook, Ralph’s Italian Restaurant: 100
Years and 100 Recipes.
In the restaurant business, however,
standing the test of time doesn’t mean
standing still. Tastes change.
“When my brother Eddie and I took
over the business in 1980,” Rubino recalls,
“we wanted to update the menu and the
décor. My Uncle Ralph and Aunt Eleanor
wouldn’t hear of it, so we waited until they
went on vacation.”
When they returned, they discovered
that Rubino had added a nightly special to
the menu, which was as taboo as drawing
a mustache on the Mona Lisa.
“My first special was chicken Rubino—
grilled chicken breast with hot cherry
peppers, onions, green peppers, garlic,
dry wine and a dash of cream. It was an
instant hit. My uncle was horrified until
he saw the night’s receipts.”
Aunt Eleanor was not so forgiving.
“She was so secretive about her rum
cake recipe that she took it with her when
she died,” says Rubino.
“Our recipes were never written,”
he continues, “they were handed
down.” Rubino started busing tables
at age 5 and cooking at 13. But to
celebrate the restaurant’s 100th
anniversary, he was finally per-
suaded to part with his family’s
Something Old, Something New
When Dante & Luigi’s Corona di Ferro
opened its doors in 1899, it quickly
became a destination for Italian immigrants who arrived in their new city with
the restaurant’s name pinned to their
lapels. They knew they would find lodgings on the restaurant’s upper floors and
employment in the nearby Italian market.
It was a family-run business, passed from
one generation to the next, but Dante &
Luigi’s eventually succumbed to a time
warp: That wasn’t Parmesan falling on
your plate; it was the ceiling. This was
the challenge that Connie and Michael
LaRussa embraced when they bought
Dante & Luigi’s in 1996.
Seafood cioppino at Dante & Luigi’s