Tastemakers: A Famiglia Face

You can spot the first-timers at Tony’s when they ask Rosa DePasquale about the specials. “I make the chicken cutlet, shrimp scampi, meatballs, sausage, three kinds of pasta: ravioli and ziti and spaghetti,” she’ll reply. But their question is irrelevant. What hungry patrons should ask is what DePasquale’s cooking at the moment—because that’s what they’ll be getting for dinner.


You can spot the first-timers at Tony’s when they ask Rosa DePasquale about the specials. “I make the chicken cutlet, shrimp scampi, meatballs, sausage, three kinds of pasta: ravioli and ziti and spaghetti,” she’ll reply. But their question is irrelevant. What hungry patrons should ask is what DePasquale’s cooking at the moment—because that’s what they’ll be getting for dinner.

There are no menus at Tony’s Restaurant, nor are there place settings, cookbooks, or checks. It feels less like a restaurant than a somehow-familiar stranger’s kitchen. Walk in, and the grandmotherly DePasquale (who won’t reveal her age) motions for you to take a seat, then shuffles off to her open kitchen to start the pots of water boiling. Without a word, she brings you a bread basket, silverware neatly rolled in a paper napkin, and mismatched glasses plucked from her collection, then gets busy counting out fresh ravioli from a plastic container and warming up the meatballs. She lugs over a jug of wine and instructs you to have some.

Tony’s has operated like this since 1965, when DePasquale married its namesake. Back then it was the spot for city movers and shakers who craved classic Italian grub. Today it serves as an unassuming hall of fame, its walls festooned with Kennedy paraphernalia and autographed photos, as well as several hundred severed ties, each bearing the business card of the man who once wore it. The one thing that the ties’ former owners—politicians, municipal employees, university administrators, hotel managers, inspectors—had in common: They couldn’t finish their meals.

DePasquale, who learned how to cook as a child in Naples, developed a following of her own when Tony died in the late 1970s. “Governor [Edward] King went crazy for me,” she says. It’s quieter these days, but many still appreciate her keeping a flame burning on the stove. Tom Laronga, a sales manager for a nearby freighting company, dropped in recently for a Friday lunch, as he’s done for 20 years. “Her food is good—it’s great,” he croons, as DePasquale sets down a steaming plate of meatballs and ziti.

There’s no worry he’ll lose his tie; Laronga lost his long ago. And anyway, says DePasquale, gesturing to the walls, “There’s no more room!”

>>Tony’s Restaurant, 329 Sumner St., East Boston, 617-569-1574.