A real mob scene at Gaetano's
Dick Kreck will be reading from his book Smaldone: The Untold Story of an American Crime Family tonight at the Tattered Cover in LoDo, with Chuck and Gene, the sons of Clyde Smaldone, on hand to answer questions about their infamous relatives.
But for a real taste of what the Smaldone family meant to Denver, you have to head to Gaetano's, the Italian restaurant at 3760 Tejon Street that the Smaldones ran from 1947 (it replaced the Tejon Cafe that Ralph and Mamie Smaldone had started down the block in 1934) until Wynkoop Holdings (that's the chain started by John Hickenlooper, who's now out of the business) bought it in 2005. And today, much of the Smaldone heritage is preserved in the decor (the Frank Sinatra shrines), the set-up (bulletproof glass by the front door) and the slogan: "Italian to die for."
The menu has history, too: Many of the offerings are the same red, white and green, southern Italian dishes that made Gaetano's a regular stop for decades, featuring ingredients purchased from other family-run operations in the neighborhood. But now Gaetano's also features two daily specials, because there's a new chef these days: Sicilian-born Sal Calo, who for five years ran Oliveto. (As of June 1, that space at 3355 South Yarrow Street is home to the new Giovanni's Italian Cafe.)
"Old-school Italian cooking, that's what I love to make," he says. "The authentic dishes I grew up with, made with the freshest ingredients you can get. It's important to maintain the old traditions."
And that's an offer you can't refuse.
"A few of them have told me, 'Sal, the sauce is better than it's ever been.' That means a lot," Calo says of the Smaldone family. "Honoring the old traditions, staying true. That's what it's all about."