Forty years ago, Pat Orlando immigrated to America from Sicily. Within three months, he was making a name for himself in the restaurant business, bringing the recipes he knew from home to customers who craved authentic Italian flavors.
His reputation as a top Italian chef is stronger than ever, and now Pat Orlando is back in the area, serving his signature dishes at LaRosa on Atwood Avenue.
“To be in the restaurant business for so long, you have to have love for creating your own food and love what you’re doing, which I do,” he said.
LaRosa officially opened in May, and the reception has been overwhelming. Pat has run 11 restaurants throughout his career, seven of them with his wife Terry, and former regulars from all of them – most recently Sergio’s in South County – have made the trek to LaRosa to taste familiar pasta dishes and try new wood-fired pizzas.
“We wanted an opportunity to do more, to go back to our own clientele that had been following us for about 40 years,” said Terry, who runs the front of the house. “People come here because they know my husband’s reputation with Italian food and food in general. The product we put out is phenomenal.”
The couple is especially glad to be back to the area, as they live in Johnston. They considered retiring, but their love of food brought them back into the business.
“We’re very hands-on owners. My husband is the head chef. He is here every day and I am also here every day,” Terry said. “It’s in our blood.”
Terry’s marketing background comes in handy as she helps her husband run the business. Their son, Sergio, is in graduate school but helps out where he can, recently building a new website for the restaurant.
“We’re a team; we’ve always been a team,” Terry said.
When the family gets any time away from the restaurant, which is rare, they visit their second home in Sicily. While in Italy, they eat at many restaurants, drawing inspiration for their own menu.
Pat was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and once cooked for the pope.
“Nobody comes from Italy anymore; it’s not like the old days. We’ve got authentic Italian cuisine,” he said. “After my generation, the closest thing is going to be Olive Garden for Italian food.”
LaRosa’s menu covers all the bases you would expect from an Italian restaurant, from veal sorrento and chicken picatta to gnocchi and lasagna. The choices are extensive, though, and include beef, seafood and homemade soups.
Terry enjoys everything on the menu, but is especially fond of the homemade agnellotti, a half moon pasta stuffed with spinach and four cheeses. Pat is particularly proud of his brick oven pizzas.
“It’s a lot of the same classics, but we’ve kind of mixed it up a little bit, too,” Terry said.
The “classics” are what helped to build Pat’s reputation as an authentic Italian chef. He makes pasta fresh multiple times each week. For other varieties, he imports the best from Italy. The restaurant offers gluten free pasta as well.
“We’re very well known for our sauce and our homemade pasta. That is really our claim to fame,” Terry said.
LaRosa is currently offering a dine-in dinner special for $18.95, available Tuesday through Thursday and on Sundays, in honor of their 40th anniversary in the business. Guests opting for the special enjoy soup or salad, a choice from one dozen entrees, pasta or potato and vegetable, dessert and a glass of wine or beer.
“Our prices are very reasonable. Our food is very good and ample, in terms of our portions,” Terry said.
Whether it’s a recipe he has been crafting over his four-decade career, or a new idea he concocted in the kitchen, Pat uses the freshest ingredients. He often does the shopping himself, and doesn’t cut corners when it comes to his materials.
“Everything we use is top shelf,” he said. “We do not compromise with anything. The reward for all this is the smile and the compliments you get from the longtime customers and newcomers.”
Pat recalled one customer, who has long followed his career, saying that if he were on death row, he would want his last meal to be at LaRosa.
In addition to the dining room, LaRosa boasts banquet facilities that can accommodate more than 200 people. They are available for baby and bridal showers, retirement parties – the whole gamut of events. Though they have only been open for six months, Terry says LaRosa books three to four parties each week.
“I see it growing every day,” she said. “The message that sends me is that we were missed. It’s been wonderful.”
For both daily diners and special events, the Orlandos are confident in the experience they provide customers.
“They can expect probably the best dining experience of their life,” Terry said. “We believe a good restaurant experience is not just sitting down to good food; we feel personal attention to detail is extremely important.”
LaRosa is located at 555 Atwood Avenue, on the Cranston/Johnston border. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday; 4 to 10 p.m. on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. They will be open on Christmas Eve and gift certificates are available. For more information, call 944-2500 or visit www.LaRosaRI.com.