TEWKSBURY -- When Italian cuisine comes to mind, maybe you think of homemade pasta or freshly brewed coffee or pizza right out of a brick oven. All that and more is available to tantalize taste buds in Tewksbury. The town is home to four main Italian restaurants, each of which offers a cozy, family feel and quality eats.
Tewksbury Sons of Italy President Debbie Deputat has been living in Tewksbury since 1954. She said seeing the increased presence of Italian eateries in town has been a pleasure.
"All of these places, they're all very friendly," Deputat said. "You can always just go in there, and they make you feel at home. All of these places are like personal favorites of ours, and the owners are all personal friends.
Deputat said no matter which of the four you choose, getting a bad meal is not an option.
"Asking me to choose a favorite would be like asking me to choose a favorite child," she said.
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Al Fresca Ristorante
1768 Main St.
Mark Angluin of Dracut began working in the restaurant business when he was just 13. After spending 12 years working at Scola's Restaurant in Dracut and another seven years at Trattoria Amalfi in Salem, N.H., Angluin knew it was time to open the doors of his own place.
Five years ago, Angluin opened Al Fresca on Route 38. Being along the major road was important to establishing the business at that location, he said.
Just two years into being a business owner, he bought the former Airport Diner at the rear of the business and expanded, adding a 75-person function room and more kitchen space. Training employees for the bigger space began.
"I ended up getting sick and put in the hospital for eight or nine months, but they were already trained and ready to go, so it was nice," Angluin said.
When customers walk through the door, Angluin wants them to feel a sense of comfort knowing everything is fresh -- from the soups to the seafood specials. Angluin said the veal is cut on site and seafood is delivered from a pier in Boston at least three times a week.
"We tried to offer what we thought people would like, so if a party of six sat down, there would be something for everybody," he said.
At Al Fresca, it's a family affair. Angluin's wife, brother, cousin and father-in-law have been helpful in the success of the restaurant. He has also employed a number of people he used to work with at previous jobs.
"A lot of the rewarding part is the team members," Angluin said, "the employees being able to do stuff they want, go on vacations, do stuff they're supposed to do."
Angelina's Italian Restaurant
1866 Main St.
For Susan Amato, Angelina's is all about family.
Amato, who has lived in Tewksbury for 24 years, said she was introduced to the kitchen at the young age of 6.
"We're Italian -- that's all you did," she said. "It cured everything. It was everything. Food was everything. You never went out to dinner. You always cooked and sat around the table -- and it was everyone."
In 2012, after working in a couple restaurants her husband owns, Amato decided to open her own that was close to home.
"My hope is that when people walk in, they feel comfortable right away," she said.
One of the customer favorites is the polenta, an appetizer on the menu. Amato recalled the days her grandfather would cook polenta all day and pour it on a wooden board that covered the table when it was done.
"Everybody just sat down and ate it right off the board because the wood gave it a different kind of taste," she said. "I actually had my cousin from my grandfather's village send me the polenta boards that they have in the village, so we serve them on the boards from my grandfather's village."
Amato's goal was to preserve that family feel, so the restaurant stops taking customers every night at 9 p.m., and is closed Sundays. She said her employees feel like family. Nick Jansen of Tewksbury began as a dishwasher for the restaurant when he was 16. Now, at 23, he's the executive chef.
"It's more than I expected," Amato said. "I expected to open up and have a nice little thing going, but it grew into something totally different, bigger than I ever expected."
Capellini's Italian Restaurant & Catering
896 Main St.
Capellini's is the oldest Italian restaurant in town, having opened in 1995. While it's not family-owned, it's often mistaken to be because it's got that family feel.
Maria Ausiello of Tewksbury opened the restaurant with Vinny DiPrizio of Pelham, N.H., after the two worked together at another restaurant. DiPrizio, whose family is from northern Italy, developed most of the recipes on his own, Ausiello said.
One of the most popular dishes is the chicken parmesan, but a personal favorite of Ausiello's is the chicken Verona -- a breaded cutlet sautéed with spinach, sage and butter, tossed with pasta and Asiago cheese.
"A lot of our traditional Italian dishes are based on northern Italian cooking with a little bit of an American flair to it," Ausiello said.
Over the years, the best part for Ausiello has been building relationships with customers.
"It's like the customers are family, too, the staff is family," she said. "I was 27 when we opened, so my customers have seen me get married, they've seen me have kids. Vinny's kids are both working here now.
"So it's kind of neat to look back on all of it and see what it was and what it is now," she added.
1699 Shawsheen St.
The owners of Luna Rossa come from the lineage of Italian chefs who opened the original Davio's on Newbury Street in Boston, Davide in the North End, and Donatello in Saugus.
Twenty years ago, Luna Rossa opened to bring their take on Italian cuisine to the suburbs.
"It's pretty much scratch kitchen. We don't buy anything already prepared," said owner David DiCenso, who runs the business with his father and uncle. "We definitely take pride in the food, which is the way it was done in Italy. We don't fool around with the ingredients."
DiCenso, who lives in Wilmington, said the restaurant makes everything in house -- from its pasta to its sausage to its bread. As a child, DiCenso remembers helping his nonna make gnocchi, which she made from scratch every Saturday for Davide.
"We make them, to this day here, the exact same recipe," he said. "That dish has been here since day one. We always make it the same way. It's on the menu as Nonna Anna's gnocchi."
The restaurant recently underwent renovations for a new look and added space. The owners also purchased the plaza and are changing the whole look of the place.
Over the past two decades, DiCenso said the relationships built with customers have definitely been the most rewarding part of the being in the business.
"I know 90 percent of the people who are in here because we have so many regulars," he said. "It's like family. Growing up in Wilmington, we're all from similar backgrounds, so it's just a comfort."