Viva la holidays: Italian fare abounds

The Harvest Moon has appeared from behind its hillside hiding place, the air is becoming increasingly cooler, and we know the days that warm us and bid us to walk outdoors incessantly are nearing their end. But while we bid “farewell” to one season, we welcome a most glorious time. Cherished by our families and friends, this period of celebration and reflection is a time of togetherness when quiet, snowy evenings cause us to look to a star-filled sky and have hope in our hearts.

Planning is being done as you read for the several excursions that begin this week in preparation for this season. Most, who believe a mid-night Church visit is “spot-on” for Dec. 24, will extend themselves to purchase some remembrance for family members.

So, as we are among the many who will travel throughout Central West Virginia to get some Christmas closure accomplished, why not set our sights on some special eateries where families can stop and get some tasty pasta in their diet as a precursor to that big Thanksgiving meal awaiting them in late November or the holiday get-togethers that offer many samplings of our best kitchen-made blends.

Among the several excellent Italian restaurants available, I am pleased to introduce three that have large seating capacities, outstanding reputations, and affordable prices, so the entire family can eat-out and enjoy spicing-up stocking-stuffer adventures.

The oldest of these establishments is Minard’s Spaghetti Inn, located on old Route 50 (from I-79N, take the Bridgeport Exit near Eastpoint, turn left onto 50W and take Clarksburg’s Joyce Street Exit. Turn right, then right again at the stoplight. Look to the left about a football-field away and Minard’s will find you.)

Founded in l937, the restaurant began with two sisters combining efforts to develop Old World recipes authentic and true to the Italian people who immigrated to the Mountain State and worked as laborers at the turn of the 20th century as described by Tressa Wolfe, current establishment president.

Today, her husband engineers the quality-control of all foods by supervising their preparation at the facility. Breads, meatballs, sauces, desserts, and the padding of fresh fish are items for which he has responsibility as the long-standing reputation of this business must be preserved.

The Minard Family focuses their attention on family meals with monthly specials under ten dollars. November promises a Harvestfest with special desserts of Dutch apple and pumpkin pies. This accompanies other menu favorites such as fresh, deep-fried seafood, angus steaks, oysters, veal and chicken dishes. A family style dinner is available to groups of at least four, and special low rates exist for children and seniors.

Open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., reservations are suggested by calling 304-623-1711.

Continuing on I-79, and using the same Bridgeport exit, go right to downtown Bridgeport that boasts Oliverio’s Ristorante, a 350-seat capacity building. Their famous breadsticks are baked daily on the premises along with pizza shells.

Founded in l965, two brothers (Phillip and Pat) manage the popular eating place with their sister, providing delicious Italian desserts of tiramisu, a light, Italian cake and cheesecakes that can also be obtained from her Bridgeport-based Almost Heaven Desserts, only a few blocks from Oliverio’s.

Find them open during the week from 11 a.m. to l0 p.m., Saturday from 4 to l0 p.m. and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. In addition to the popular spicy quisine, is fresh fish including mahi-mahi and halibut.

Veal is also prepared and steaks-to-order according to co-owner Phillip Oliverio. He added that they offer “nightly specials, top-notch service, and catering for take-out needs.” He paid tribute to his father and mother who began the business in l965 and made sure I understood their valuable contributions to this well-known landmark.

Moving North on I-79 at the South Fairmont Exit near Middletown Mall, seek Muriale’s on the road to Fairmont. With a 200-person seating capacity and an additional l40-seat private party room, brothers Frank and Sam Muriale began the establishment in l969 that boasts “A Taste of Italy,” a plate of popular Italian delicacies, and their popular rigatoni and meatballs with sauce. According to President and Manager Rocco Muriale, the rigatoni dish is their “big seller” and he believes most of Muriale’s meals can satisfy customers with a cost of “around $11.”

Service is a source of pride for this owner as he requires a two-to-four week training program for service staff. Every position in the restaurant is specially designed to provide the customer first-rate attention and it obviously brings in the business. A full menu offering a wide variety of meals bids those hungry to check for entrees and open hours.

It is a sure bet that Rocco’s relatives would approve of the quality today. The jolly, upbeat atmosphere speaks well of wonderful food and service.

One cannot become part of these great eating establishments without noticing the artwork and collections that hang on walls and make each unique. From seeing Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton’s practice uniform (Muriale’s) to artworks portraying waterways in Venice (Minard’s), all of these restaurants would be good museum-quality venues for art lovers.

One common thread that binds these excellent businesses is that of family heritage that is evident even as one walks in their doors. All have stunning photographs of parents and relatives who were early business pioneers. Pride is an unspoken understanding.

It accentuates this season with its emphasis on togetherness and family friendships.

Whether one is part of the standard mom, pop, child group or whether blendedness is vogue; whether one is widowed or single and have friends who extend themselves to care or whether many look to God for their sense of bondedness or relationship; it is very good to know that we are all covered and can know there is someone who cares about us.

During Thanksgiving and Christmas, let us be aware of those who might benefit from a meal, a piece of pie, or a box filled with cookies. Let us get beyond our own Thanksgiving feasts and Italian appetites and understand that everyone is not fed in the manner we might call our own.

As the early American settlers discovered, friendship bore them more benefits than cruelty, helpfulness gained them respect rather than raids or pillage, and cooperation bore fruits beyond what was needed to survive. As we choose to keep alive our ancestors’ greatest virtues, maybe we can have, too, the special parts of that first Thanksgiving – those where common needs were met through understanding, education, and a willingness to listen and learn.

It is no wonder Thanksgiving and this holiday season are so celebrated. They provide symbols of peace among the American people and are portends of God’s expectation that we love and respect all those who cross our mountain trails.