Dining SEEN Feature Food + Drink Restaurants + Chefs

Mario’s Italian Restaurant

October 31, 2016

Make it part of your Thanksgiving tradition.

By Matt Totsky
Photography by BRETT MOUNTAIN

For many, Thanksgiving is the ultimate family holiday. A time for loved ones to come together, reconnect, watch some football and indulge in a magnificent feast. But for those who have to prepare that feast, it can be a long, tiring and stressful day in the kitchen. Often, when it’s all over, some family members are left feeling depleted and exhausted.

If the prospect of slaving away in a hot kitchen on Turkey Day is unappealing, Mario’s Italian Restaurant in Detroit can save the day. “Since 1980, we’ve hosted up to 500 people on this special day,” says owner Vince Passalacqua. “It starts at 10:30 a.m. with our annual Thanksgiving Day Brunch. We offer five different turkeys – traditional, smoked, Cajun-style, deep-fried and turducken. There are also four different stuffings, an omelet station and plenty of other delicious food. We serve about 150-200 people for brunch … usually folks going to the Thanksgiving parade or football fans headed to the Lions game.”

Later, the staff at Mario’s welcomes the Thanksgiving dinner crowd. “It’s a great time and we try to go all out,” Passalacqua says. “We serve around 250 pounds of turkey for individual dinners and up to 500 pounds of potatoes. That’s about 200-300 dinners until we close around 9:00. Plus, our regular menu is available, too.”

“We try to create a real traditional atmosphere in the restaurant,” Passalacqua continues. “We have a strolling quartet that will sing your favorite songs throughout the day and we’ll even bring your bird to your table so you can carve it yourself.”

“Our motto at Mario’s is ‘Family means everything,’” Passalacqua says. “And if what we do here can make your day better – so that you can spend more time with your family – then that’s what we strive to do.”

But the Mario’s Thanksgiving Day experience isn’t just confined to the restaurant. “We offer a complete Thanksgiving carry-out dinner, straight from our ovens to your fine china,” says Passalacqua. “And it only takes 30 minutes to bring to temperature.” This feast comes with everything that’s available in the restaurant and can serve between six and eight people: a perfectly-seasoned and fully roasted 10-14-pound turkey, green beans, holiday stuffing, candied yams, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, cranberry relish, a large bowl of mixed green salad, 12 dinner rolls and one whole pie (either pumpkin or pecan). “Whether you eat here or at home, we want to do everything we can to make your Thanksgiving one to remember,” Passalacqua says.

Mario’s has been a Detroit institution since 1948, one of the last existing supper clubs of its era. Full of old-school charm and cool, Passalacqua once calculated that they’ve cooked enough pasta at Mario’s to circle the globe three times. His parents Frank and Arlene bought it from original owner Mario Lelli in 1980. “He was here for 32 years,” Passalacqua says. “I’ve been here for over 33. I started busing tables, washing dishes, manning the pasta station in the kitchen and spending more than 15 years on the cooking line. I’ve tended bar and waited tables. Then I managed the place and finally took over the day-to-day operations in 1994. I think anyone who runs a restaurant will tell you that in order to be successful you have to know how to do just about everything in your place.”

When one walks into Mario’s, you see photographs lining the walls; they feature many celebrities who have dined there, including actors (Paul Newman), athletes (Gordie Howe) and entertainers (Andy Williams). “Robin Williams would always come here when he was in town,” Passalacqua says. “He liked to introduce himself to the dish washers and bus staff.”

“If walls could talk, Mario’s would have a lot to say,” Passalacqua continues. “I’ve served Bea Arthur and Jerry Lewis. Frank Sinatra would come here during my dad’s time. We host the cast parties for all of the Broadway shows that come through Detroit, including the 500th performance of Wicked a few years back. We even prepared food for the Rolling Stones to take on their plane ride home.”

For Thanksgiving, one of Mario’s regular customers is former Mayor Dennis Archer and his wife Trudy. “It’s great to see them every year,” Passalacqua says. “We’re glad to see people rediscovering the Midtown area of Detroit and the culture and history that surrounds us. I’m proud that Mario’s is part of that. In 2018, we will be 70-years-old, and you can bet we’ll have something special planned to celebrate that milestone anniversary.” NS

For more information:

Mario’s Italian Restaurant, 4222 Second Ave., Detroit 313-832-1616 mariosdetroit.com

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