By Sarah Unger
Step through the unassuming entry of Tattoni’s Restaurant and the first greeting comes from the herb-tinged aroma floating from the compact kitchen at the opposite end of the cozy establishment.
The curves and contours of emptied wine bottles mingle atop decorative shelves, mementos of customers’ accompaniments that add notes of hospitality to the already warm décor.
The restaurant’s origins go back to when Dominic Tattoni began a career as a bartender and cook at Paul’s Roma Gardens on Trenton’s Front Street.
Upon returning from World War II, he stepped back into the kitchen, honing his skills enough to open a bar with a few sandwiches on the menu. He sold that restaurant, and opened a second one just down Chestnut Street.
“The business just grew and grew,” said his son Lou Tattoni, who currently owns and operates the restaurant. “Trenton was very good to us for the many years we were there,” Tattoni said of nearly their half century Chambersburg existence. He keeps fond memories of it all, but in 2007 relocated to Route 33 in Hamilton.
“This is a good location for us,” he said. “It’s in a central part of Hamilton. It’s a big area.”
“Friday and Saturday nights are crowded, no doubt about it,” Tattoni said. “And the lunch crowd is pretty good, too.”
Though he misses the camaraderie that developed among patrons who would gather at the bar of his Chambersburg establishment as they awaited their tables, he still makes a point of engaging with his customers. “I come out to every table, every night and ask how the meal was,” he said.
The kitchen is small, so Tattoni prefers to keep the menu streamlined so the focus remains on quality, not quantity, of choices.
Dinners, which range in price from $14 to $26, include a complimentary family-style antipasto, along with bruschetti, various pastas and entrée choices. For lunch, which is served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the restaurant does not maintain a regular menu.
They offer seven or eight selections that patrons can choose from.” The four-course lunch offers soup, salad, pasta and the main entrée for a fixed price of $11.50, tax included. The breads he serves come from Italian People’s Bakery.
“For the most part,” Tattoni said, “the customers are the same that came into the ’Burg, plus some new ones. They like the concept of the family-style.”
That doesn’t mean change can’t happen, though, as Tattoni noted he is expanding patrons’ meal and price choice with a price-saver’s menu offering pared-down meals without antipasto and bruschetti.
Continuing the restaurant’s traditional focus on the recipes of his father, Tattoni prepares pastas with a variety of sauces, roasts, and his signature dish, the chicken cacciatore. He has modified some flavors here and there over the years, but a light touch in the kitchen remains paramount: “You never put too much into a dish,” Tattoni said. “If it needs more you can always add it. But once it’s in, you can’t take it out.”
Though he obtained an accounting degree and continues to enjoy numbers and figures, Tattoni never found his calling anywhere but in the kitchen, where he honed his cooking and seasoning skills at his father Dominic’s side.
Today, with six other employees, Tattoni is the main cook at his Zagat-rated restaurant. But dad Dominic, now 88, whose portrait hangs over the kitchen pass-through, still comes in now and again to help tenderize the veal or cut up some chicken.
Located at 1280 Route 33, Tattoni’s is open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. for dinner. Call (609) 587-9700.