1.02.2012

The Magro Family of Eateries, Part 1

Remember that great 90s show, Party of Five, the one that graced us with national treasures Matthew Fox and Jennifer Love Hewitt? A lot of people loved that show for its poignant coming-of-age storylines, love triangles and such, but my favorite part of each show was the end of the hour, when the Salinger kids would gather at the family’s restaurant, crowding into a booth together for dinner. It made me wish my family owned a restaurant, so we could all get together once a week for a huge meal that none of us had to cook. So, imagine if you didn’t just own a restaurant in your town, but in little towns all over your state…and you have the Magro clan. These first-generation Italian siblings have established hidden gems all over Upstate NY, like Sorrento’s in Ilion, Joe and Vinny’s in Sherburne, and VJ’s in Hamilton.

In Carthage and Pulaski, the Magros have blessed us with Stefano’s Pizzeria. The Carthage location is warm and welcoming, which is the feel I got from Stefano’s wife when I met her this past summer. Photographs of the Magro clan from a bygone era in Italy dot the walls, and families crowd the booths and tables, enjoying pizza and the company of their loved ones. My parents and I stopped by last month for a casual bite to eat, and appreciated the quality of the meal we were served.

We started not only with Stefano’s complimentary rolls, which are yeasty and crusty, with a soft, tender interior and a nice crunch, but also the garlic knots, which were recommended by our waitress. The knots were delicious – crunchy like their plainer counterparts, with lots of parmesan cheese and great flavor, and positively swimming in tasty garlic butter.


Garlic A-Go-Go

As I’ve mentioned before, I am a sucker for carbonara on a menu. If you’re uninitiated, carbonara is coal miner’s pasta, and I believe it originated in Rome. It is essentially bacon and egg pasta with lots of black pepper, to mimic coal dust. It’s tricky to find authentic carbonara on restaurant menus, because the egg sauce renders it a delicate dish – cook it too fast, you end up with scrambled eggs running through your pasta; cook it too little, it’s gloppy and runny and gross. The usual restaurant compromise is a pancetta and cream sauce that is nowhere near as delectable as the real thing. Stefano’s menu boasted a version made with egg, so of course I had to try it. To start, the pasta was perfectly al dente, which I appreciated. As for the rest, while the flavor was good, I could tell immediately that the most experienced cook in the kitchen had not prepared my dinner – the eggs were scrambled, and probably in an effort not to scramble them, the dish was not very hot. Like I said, getting a carbonara sauce right is tricky, and I’m afraid whomever made my dinner had never learned the time-honored skill of gently tempering the eggs in some of the pasta cooking liquid before dumping them in with the bacon. That said, it was a valiant effort, and hey, I’m not too precious to eat scrambled eggs – I still give this dish a thumbs up. Our waitress told us Stefano had left the restaurant minutes before we ordered – I bet his presence would have ensured a silky, unctuous egg sauce was delivered hot and ready to my table.

My Dad likes his Italian food old school. In his day, eating Italian meant spaghetti and meatballs, maybe a piece of sausage, and if it was a special occasion, baked ziti. And so, he ordered the linguine with red sauce and meatballs at Stefano’s. The rich red sauce was delicious – we both guessed it was heavy on tomato paste, which makes a thick, savory sauce. The meatballs he also pronounced yummy, although he says the Magro’s outpost in Ilion, Sorrento’s, makes them better. Let the Magro Meatball Throwdown begin! I will also note that while the portions sort of look small when set down in front of you, this is a clever deception. Stefano’s serves you a TON of food for very reasonable prices, which is why, I’m sure, it was packed the early evening we visited.

Mom ordered the piece de’resistance of the repast: pepperoni and pineapple pizza. I’m not usually a fan of pineapple on pizza, but holy cats, was this good. Let me start with the crust, which is just plain, old phenomenal. These Magros seem to have a way with dough – it was chewy and flavorful and fabulous. The sauce also was perfect, and the pepperoni was obviously a high quality product, as it was bursting with spice and flavor. This truly was the star of the meal.

We were enormously satisfied with our dinner at Stefano’s, and will undoubtedly be back for more pizza there. Our pageant friends, the Ferrises, had told us that Stefano made some superior pie, and they weren’t kidding. The value is super at this little Carthage gem – dinner for three, with a couple adult beverages, ran us $48. We scored Stefano’s a 7.5 on the BHS 1-10 scale, a number bolstered by my conviction that the carbonara could be truly great if prepared by the right staffer, and by the warm and homey atmosphere. Unfortunately, I don’t have my own restaurant to gather my family at each week, but places like Stefano’s Pizzeria and its constellation of sister restaurants across Upstate create places that any of us can call home.

Have you visited a Magro-run establishment or have thoughts on their delicious pizza? Add your comments below, or join our Big Hungry Shelby group on Facebook. Take your family with you the next time you jaunt to Carthage and tell them Big Hungry sent you. My personality is big; my hunger is bigger!

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