From Italy, With Brotherly Love
by: Jessica Jewel Tyler
There’s a saying in Italy, “Chi non risica non rosica,” which loosely translates into “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So After Tony attended culinary school, the D’Angelo brothers journeyed to America in search of new and exciting opportunities when they were just teenagers. Growing up in Italy, Sal and Tony D’Angelo, worked at many prestigious restaurants and learned the ins and outs of the industry, until their mother inspired them to think bigger. She connected them with family in Philadephia, and just like a mama bird, she encouraged them to fly.
Tony credits his mother (and the rest of his family) with the inspiration behind his culinary passion. “I loved the way my mother was cooking, and I loved the way my father was complaining,” he chuckled. According to Tony, his mother’s food was always delicious, but his father demanded absolute perfection and this is the standard the D’Angelo’s followed with every plate they created. This philosophy made Tony quite a name in the restaurant industry in Philadelphia.
In 1967, Tony describes their new city as a “small village” compared to Milan, the brothers however, both made it into bigger leagues of their own. Tony debuted at Jimmy’s Milan and helped to build the restaurant’s menu, prestige, and a glowing reputation of his own. And Sal pursued interests in singing and also built a successful construction business. This was until the two decided to open a restaurant where they could both pursue their passions together, right in the City of Brotherly Love.
After six months of laborious renovations, D’Angelo’s opened with no advertising besides a small sign in the window. Despite this, the three-story restaurant filled every seat on opening night thanks to Tony’s chef following. In fact, it was so busy that Sal and Tony ended up cooking together and the two continued to do so for ten years after that. Sal says that his brother taught him everything he knows and that they’ve always made a great pair.
Tony says being a chef is about two things, “craftsmanship and creation.” A craftsman would never use inferior materials or tools and expect to make a quality product. Tony sees his dishes in the same manner. The ingredients he uses have to be fresh, that’s why he cooks his meals to order. His soups are made from scratch daily, and every piece of meat is sliced and cooked one at a time. The ingredients also have to be appropriate for the dish. Tony’s Best of Philly Award winning arrabiata dish, for example, would never use jalapenos, because the plate simply warrants true Italian long hots.
Creation is another important aspect. “Anyone can make arrabiata,” says Tony. A true chef however, creates their own recipes. Tony himself helped bring innovation to Philadelphia menus with specialty ingredients and unique preparations. For example, Tony lays claim to the art of burnt onions. The depth of flavor and wonderful texture it adds to meat and fish are next level. Some customers even eat them as if they were potato chips.
Furthermore, Tony considers nutrition when it comes to his menu. Interestingly enough, a large part of his chef training involved health. “You have to know what food does to the body and how it makes you feel,” he asserts. That’s why he offers plenty of delectable seafood on the menu that leaves his guests feeling “light and happy.” Tony finds joy in serving his busy guests who depend on him to cook, exactly what they need to nourish their bodies. Some of his regulars come in every day. To those customers, he offers the advice to eat fish twice a week or more and even watches the empty plates come back into the kitchen to make sure they enjoyed every bite.
His favorite way to utilize seafood is for extracting extra taste without extra fat. He excitedly spoke about the Swordfish guanciale he uses to flavor some of his dishes. In Italian the “guanciale” usually refers to the neck of pig (used as a flavoring agent,) however, Tony calls for fish with rich, meaty, buttery flavor, to add amazing taste along with sweet ocean brine. This method always impresses his guests, not to mention his brother Sal. Even though they aren’t filleting fish together anymore, they are still breaking bread together every day in the restaurant they built on brotherly love.