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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 71.0° F  Fair
The Paper

TABLE TALK

Pietro Pipitone
Cafe La Bellitalia, 1026 N. Sherman Ave.

Pipitone:
'My recipes are very authentic.'
Pipitone: 'My recipes are very authentic.'
Credit:Susan Kepecs
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Why you should go: To break your diet and brush up on your Italian. The Pipitones are masters of plain old-fashioned Sicilian comfort food. I cleaned my plate of spaghetti and almost-spicy meatballs, then went for both the homemade, superbly fluffy tiramisu and the perfumy pistaccio gelato. Tutto molto bene!

How'd you get to be such a good cook? I'm from Marsala. Growing up, I worked part-time in a restaurant that belonged to some friends of my family. I met my wife - she's Sicilian, too - and she had family in Beloit. We got married and ended up here - that's how those things go.

We landed in Chicago first, in '83. I had a restaurant there. I'm still a partner in that business, but I don't do much with it any more. We moved up to Beloit, looking to open another place, and in '92 we set up Pietro's Pizza in Sun Prairie. I sold that place in 2001 and opened two more - one in Beaver Dam, which I still have, and one in Columbus, which I sold in order to open this place, just about a year ago. Business has been good. We get so many nice working people from the neighborhood who say they hope we'll be around forever, it makes me very happy to be here. A lotta big shots come, too - the mayor's been here, the Maple Bluff police come, and Russ Feingold's been here twice already.

The restaurant business is the best, but it sucks up so many hours - I hope my kids will take over for me eventually so I can retire. I hardly ever get back to Sicily. My parents come here, though. They're really proud of me. We came here with nothing and now we have a house and two restaurants - the American dream achieved!

Are these your mom's recipes? My mom's a wonderful cook. My wife, Josephine, also comes from a long line of great cooks. So a lot of our recipes come from home, and from my restaurant experience in Marsala. Whatever we do in the States, there's no way we can make these dishes exactly like they're done in Italy. There we go pick tomatoes on the Sicilian plains, ripe with the sun. But my recipes are very authentic. I make a spaghetti aglio e olio with shrimp that's unbelievable. Last night I had it for dinner - a customer ordered it for takeout and I couldn't resist, I had to have it too.

Are you doing anything special for Columbus Day? I always watch the parade in New York, on TV. And if we can get away from the restaurant for a few hours, we'll go to my wife's parents' house in Beloit. They'll probably make a traditional stuffed chicken. I can't stay long, though - on holidays I'm always running back and forth.

This is the first time we'll be open for Columbus Day at this location. I might do a dinner special, but you can always celebrate with spaghetti! When we first opened we made a big batch of zuppa di pesce, with clams, mussels and lobster, but the dining room was full of people who wanted lasagna. We sold the zuppa, and now people ask for it, but most of our customers still want pasta for dinner.

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