By Kalea Hall
BEST: Salvatore's Italian Grille
Salvatore's Italian Grille was voted one of the hidden gems in the Valley. Listen to their story and passion for cooking Italian cuisine.
At Salvatore’s Restaurants, it’s all about the family.
The owners – Salvatore Coppola, Mike Carannante and Michele Lucignano – are cousins and business partners.
VIDEO: Salvatore's Italian Grille
Together, they’ve created an experience for guests at their restaurants to feel like they are a part of one big Italian family, which might be one of the reasons why The Vindicator’s readers voted Salvatore’s via social media as a one of three top restaurants in the Mahoning Valley.
Another reason is most likely the food. Meals here are made with passion and purpose. The purpose of the meal isn’t just to nourish guests, but to give them a place to sit and enjoy life with two necessities: food and family.
“We use three things: quality, passion and love,” said Carannante. “We have a business, but I don’t think it’s a business. The community gives us something and we give something back to them.”
Salvatore’s presence in the Valley dates back to 1976.
Coppola came to the U.S. in the 1970s from a small fishing village west of Naples, Italy, called Monte Di Procida. After settling in Brooklyn, N.Y., Coppola’s family came to Youngstown because of the shopping mall market here.
Coppola’s family operated Scotto’s Pizza in several malls including the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles and Southern Park Mall in Boardman.
Coppola’s family operated the pizzerias through the 1990s. From there, Coppola got into the restaurant business. He turned the Scotto’s Pizza location in Eastwood Mall into Salvatore’s and opened the Howland Salvatore’s Italian Grill location in 1997. In 2002, the Austintown Salvatore’s Italian Grill opened.
Carannante and Lucignano run the Austintown location, and Coppola runs the Eastwood and Howland locations.
“We cater to the southern Italian cuisine,” Coppola said.
Coppola, Carannante and Lucignano are pros in the kitchen.
“A lot of people think chefs cook better,” Carannante said. “If you have a passion for what you are doing ... you don’t need a title.”
The three, who are from the same Italian village, still go back to Italy to pick up new ways of cooking to keep the menu fresh.
“We have a menu, but we don’t need the menu,” Carannante said. “We ask the people what they want to eat.”
On the menu at the Austintown and Howland locations are seafood dishes, pizza and, of course, pasta.
There’s the penne alla vodka: penne pasta in a cream sauce with prosciutto di parma, shallots and Absolut vodka sauce. And there’s a dish that truly pays homage to the owners’ sea roots. Fantasia di mare, or seafood fantasy, has shrimp, calamari, mussels and clams saut ed in white wine sauce or marinara served over linguini.
“I make the food the way I eat it myself,” Lucignano said. “I try to make the best I can.”
At Salvatore’s, the food is made from scratch and customers can tell the difference.
“We start in the morning and after nine hours we have the sauce,” Carannante said.
Coppola said it is now easier to get the fresher items from vendors to make dishes than it was in the past.
“We don’t cut corners on the quality products we use,” Coppola said.
The owners take pride in having the public vote them at the top, especially knowing the rich Italian heritage here in Youngstown and the number of several high-quality Italian restaurants.
“I feel Youngstown is probably one the luckiest to have such a strong Italian [presence],” Coppola said. “We have some of the best Italian restaurants. Youngstown is very lucky to have this strong Italian culture.”
The owners like what’s going on in the Valley with new development bringing in more guests to share in the Italian culture with them.
“My cousins and I are working together to maintain the first-generation Italians in the area,” Coppola said.
“Hopefully, we can expand and move forward.”
Keep reading The Vindicator’s BEST section to learn the identities of the two other top restaurants as chosen by the readers.