Oklahoma Sketches: Big-City Cuisine in Small-Town America: Italian brothers create Milan-inspired dishes
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Monday, June 25, 2007
2/04/08 at 3:37 PM
Read other stories in the series: A funereal existence ::
Last real Coyote hunter :: Reaping what we sow :: Prairie family persevered :: 'Not much left' of town except strong local pride :: Oklahoma 'ghost town' still alive and kicking :: ‘We’re all characters around here’ :: Hominy warms to Mexican cuisine :: Remnant of boom days :: Cut from the same cloth
Editors Note: During 2007 --
Oklahoma's centennial year --
Tulsa World staff writer Michael
Overall is traveling the state,
writing about unique Oklahoma
WOODWARD -- The restaurant looked about as fancy as a
used-car dealership, with fluorescent lighting, wobbly tables
and a sweeping view of its own
On a Saturday night, the
guests were more John Deere
than Ralph Lauren. Around
here, it's impolite not to wear a
ball cap at the dinner table.
The hotel clerk recommended it as "the best place in
town," which on first impression
doesn't say much for the other
restaurants in Woodward, a
town of 12,000 people two hours
west of Enid.
But the food -- it makes you
expect to glance out the window
and see the Fountain of Neptune
standing in a Renaissance piazzo. The tortellini siliciano comes
sauteed with ham and olives,
topped with a creamy tomato-Alfredo sauce. And the tiramisu
might come in a Styrofoam cup,
but the rich chocolaty taste deserves to be served on fine china.
Impressed, a guy at the next
table wanted to know who owns
"The Italian people," the waitress said, with an unspoken "of
course" in her voice.
"Oh, yeah," the guy nodded.
"The Italian people."
In Woodward, everybody
knows the Italian people.
Last summer, two brothers
with thick accents hired some
local handymen to repair the vacant restaurant space at the old
"What's your name again?" a contractor asked one brother
over the phone.
"Yeah," the newcomer
sighed. "Alvin. That's it."
Now, even his brother calls
'Came to visit': It's a 450-mile
drive from Dallas to Liberal,
Kan., just across the state line
from the Oklahoma Panhandle.
"Alvin" Vito made the trip several times to visit his cousins,
who branched off from the family restaurant in Texas to open
their own place.
They became an immediate
sensation, Alvin observed, because Liberal didn't offer much
"Every time I came through
Woodward, I thought, 'This
town doesn't look like it has too
many places to eat, either.' Especially Italian -- there was Pizza Hut and that's it."
Alvin and his brother, 30-something-year-old Tony Vito,
rented the first space they found
-- not because it was particularly nice, but because it was big
enough for 130 seats.
"You can always make a big
place nicer, when you have the time and money," Alvin explained. "But you can't always
make a nice place bigger."
They call their new restaurant
Napoli's, because they learned
all the recipes from their mother, who grew up in Naples.
Now in his mid-20s, Alvin himself grew up in Milan until he
was 14, when his family moved
"We came to visit for a while
and just stayed. We love it in
'Yes, forever': Napoli's opens
at 11 o'clock on Sunday mornings, but the after-church crowd
doesn't hit before 11:30. So Alvin has time to sit down at a corner table for a short interview.
With olive skin, dark hair and
three-day stubble, he looks like
the Italian bachelor from some
romantic comedy. His accent is
so heavy that sometimes it's
hard to tell if he's actually speaking English -- he has to repeat himself a lot, gesturing more
and more passionately with his
Coming to a quiet little town
like Woodward, he has to miss
the excitement of a big city like
Dallas, doesn't he?
"When you're in a restaurant,
you're there all the time. Ten, 12
hours a day. Six, seven days a
week. Here. Always here. So it
doesn't matter where you are.
Dallas, Woodward -- it's the
same for me."
The customers must be different.
"No. The same."
Really? A customer in Dallas
doesn't seem likely to wear camouflage to dinner.
"Yeah, you're right about that.
But the people are still nice.
Very nice people."
Maybe they seem less adventurous here, preferring spaghetti and meatballs instead of veal?
"Veal marsala is the most popular thing. And shrimp scallopini with mussels -- people love
OK. Never underestimate the
sophistication of small-town
Oklahoma. But any plans for the
"We're going to fix up things a
lot. Decorate. Make it nice."
But beyond that? Can a chef
from Milan really leave Dallas to
spend the rest of his life in
"I think I'm going to stay. Yes,
forever. Everywhere I go --
Wal-Mart, Walgreens, the gas
station, everywhere -- people
know me and ask how I'm doing. The people are very good,
very nice, and they like our food.
Why would I want to leave?"
Michael Overall 581-8383
Andreatti “Alvin” Vito stirs sauce in his Italian restaurant in Woodward.