“You’ve got to taste these meatballs,” Rick Medeiros said, putting together a plate. “Let me tell you; this is the real McCoy.”
Medeiros, a longtime director of security for the Pawtucket Red Sox, wasn’t alone. Guests piled in to the Palermo Salumeria Italiana, Johnston’s newest eatery, for a sample of the Italian classics on the menu.
“This is a little bit of Federal Hill on Hartford Avenue,” said North Central Chamber of Commerce President Deborah Ramos, who coordinated an official ribbon cutting on Tuesday. “This place has become real popular in only a few short months.”
That is thanks to the work of owners Brad Lo Verde and Scott Partridge, who clearly know their audience.
“You’re in a highly-Italian community. You have a great location and we certainly appreciate your being here. I’ve always said that it’s the small business that drives the economic engine of this town,” said Mayor Joseph Polisena.
If the current trend continues, Lo Verde and Partridge may eventually need a bigger space.
“We keep hearing nothing but rave reviews about your food,” said Polisena, who was accompanied by Johnston Police Chief Richard Tamburini, who certainly knows about the fine food that’s served on Federal Hill from his days in the Providence Police Department. “You’ve already developed a reputation of having great food.”
Lo Verde said customers can expect that quality all the time.
“Everything is made here fresh daily. Scott and I are thrilled that we’ve been very well received to date. We have a passion for food and pleasing people’s palates,” he said.
Lo Verde has long worked in the food industry, and met Partridge while his future partner was a patrolman with the Providence Police Department.
They came up with the name from their Italian roots. Salumeria is the Italian word for deli or pizzeria. Lo Verde’s father, Jude, was born in Palermo, Sicily. Partridge’s family also goes back to Sicily.
Jude’s first job in America was in the kitchen at Camille’s Roman Garden Restaurant in Providence. Lo Verde’s mother has a place in the restaurant, too. Kathleen is helping in the Palermo kitchen.
“She’s working with my resident cook Lisa [Grasso],” Lo Verde said. “You know that old saying: mother knows best.”
Lo Verde is no rookie on Rhode Island’s restaurant block. He cut his teeth in the business at a young age with the help of his parents, and later on his own.
“I was 13 when I started working in restaurants,” he said.
He started at La Cucina on the Hill, where he washed dishes but also cut parsley, garlic and helped out in the kitchen.
Through the years, he went on to work at Heminways and Kirkbrae Country Club but always, he emphasized Tuesday, he was influenced by “the tutelage of my mother and father and Italian cooking.”
He also worked at Tony’s Colonial on and off for a number of years, and managed the deli at Vecchia Roma, that was once located on Federal Hill.
Before he and Partridge opened Palmero Salumeria Italiana, Brad Lo Verde was the manager of Joe-Joe’s Pizza on the Hill that is owned by two friends from Italy who also own Ice Lounge and Antonio’s Café.
As for the Lo Verde-Partridge team, it was a natural fit.
“We met about 10 years ago when Scott’s beat was Federal Hill. We always talked about food, different restaurants ... he kind of followed me from restaurant to restaurant and he really liked all my products,” Lo Verde recalled.
Partridge also liked the kindness and courtesy that Lo Verde showed customers, and he was impressed at how he would take time to explain different dishes.
“We both share a passion for fine Italian foods and our culture,” Lo Verde said.
Partridge always wanted to get into the food business, and when the time was right, they struck.
“What’s important is that we’re on the same page for our food and service. When Scott gets off duty, he comes here and immediately starts taking orders and doing things like cutting cold cuts ... we have the same passions,” Lo Verde said.
And for Italian-speaking customers, they can chat with Lo Verde in their native tongue.
“Many of our older customers love that,” Lo Verde said.
Palermo Salumeria Italiana is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu features imported meats, cheeses, olives, Italian specialty items, cold cut platters, paninis and hot prepared foods all under one roof at 1501 Hartford Avenue in Johnston. They also serve soups, salads and fresh bread delivered by another Johnston-based business, Buono’s Bakery. Palermo is available for catering.