A jewel of a ristorante called Fratello’s Italian Market & Deli is situated on Broadway Street. We recently stopped in for lunch and met Marilyn Magaro, wife of co-owner Tony Magaro, and general manager, Louis (Louie) Lecocke. We talked about Fratello’s history and its mission, and of course, tasted the food—incredibly delicious and authentic.
Marilyn said, “This is a labor of love. You take an electrical contractor, a masonry construction gentleman, and a human resource specialist and put them all together and come up with a restaurant like this. They had a dream—they wanted to see something back in San Antonio like Paletta’s, an Italian village that began downtown, where the Italian emigrants had centered along Martin Street, in the same neighborhood as the Italian church. Mr. Paletta moved out to the north side of town because of urban renewal years ago. He has since passed away, and the restaurant closed. People were missing that home-style cooking, and now they find it here.”
Fratello’s encourages families. “Bring your kids with you! If they make a mess on the floor, we’ll clean it up,” Marilyn said. “They learn about Italian foods and what really is the heart of the food here, all those recipes that began around the dinner table with grandma, Nana, on Sunday.”
This is a labor of love. You take an electrical contractor, a masonry construction gentleman, and a human resource specialist and put them all together and come up with a restaurant like this.
Fratello’s, three and a half years old, was started by three men—Tony Magaro, human resource specialist; Bobby Farbo, electrical contractor, retired; and Dan Martinelli, masonry contractor. Marilyn is credited with coming up with many of the restaurant’s creative ideas.
General Manager Louie Lecockie, who had been with Luby’s for thirty-five years, talked about the restaurant’s meatballs and sauce. “When we first opened, different chefs used different sauces—each one wanted to use his recipe. We decided as a group we wanted to reflect our families’ heritage. You go to Italy, the food in northern Italy will taste totally different than that of southern Italy, but the meatballs made here in San Antonio by local Italian families are going to be basically the same. Somebody will put a pinch more parsley and somebody a little more garlic, some a little more bread and egg, but it’s all basically the same recipe if they’re made from scratch like ours are. We fry the meatballs. They cook quickly, and the outside gets crusty. You break that meatball open and smell all the spices, especially the parsley inside—you know you’ve got it.”
Louie describes Tony as being “religious about our culture, passionate about our food.” Tony comes in every Saturday with his Fratello’s work clothes on and works in the back, side by side with the cooks. They love Tony, and he loves them. “When Tony and I first switched the meatball recipe, we thought we were having a mutiny for a while,” Louie said. “Tony showed them how we roll the meatballs—oblong, not round. We are so fortunate to have the people we have, but Tony took them under his wing and infused our culture in them.”
The restaurant’s signature dessert is the basil cake. “People think it’s pistachio,” Louie explained, “but it’s not. It’s just the right infusion of basil. It’s got a very refreshing taste to it.” Thinking that people wouldn’t eat cake with basil in it, Louie gave it away at first to get people to taste it. But it has become so popular that it’s their bestselling dessert. “Not giving away anymore, I can tell you that,” Louie said.
Fratello’s caters for law offices, business offices, and many other venues. Many of those catering orders include a large basil cake.
Marilyn’s involved with the San Antonio Herb Market Association, which sponsors two events a year: Herb Market in October and Basil Fest in May. The Basil Fest includes educational activities and a chef’s challenge, and the public votes on their favorite dish with money. The money raised goes to a local charity. Fratello’s has won the cook-off the last two years.
Fratello’s is front and center in San Antonio’s culinary environment serving fine Italian cuisine at 2503 Broadway 78215. Fratellosdeli.com.