Local Italian eatery strives to give comfort of home while dining out

At the family-run Milillo’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Altoona, the Golden Rule, well, rules.

Cook Dina Milillo said in a thick Italian accent that the eatery located off Falon Lane in the Logan Towne Center takes pride in serving fresh ingredients to its customers and quotes the Golden Rule of doing to others what you would want done for you.

“Because when I go eat some place, I would like to eat something fresh,” she said. “I don’t like some frozen microwave stuff, so I feel that the people will enjoy [fresh] too.”

Dina runs the family-owned restaurant with her husband, Carlo, and their son, Marco, 26, who also cooks at the restaurant.

A recent Friday afternoon found several tables full of people, including children and teens, ordering from the menu that offers southern Italian food from the family’s hometown region of Puglia.

“That’s what we do, authentic south Italian food. South Italy food,” Carlo said, in a thick Italian accent.

The family moved to the United States in 1989, he said. They lived in Queens, New York, for several years before moving to Long Island. In 2009, they moved to Altoona and got into the restaurant business with Milillo’s.

Dina is not a chef, but rather a cook, and wants the customers to feel at home, she said.

“I cook like at home. We always had [these] big dinners every weekend with family and friends, so me cooking for a lot of people is not a big thing. I know that and I want them to feel like we used to be at home. A home thing, not those fancy sophisticated places where you have to watch how you sit and you dress,” she said.

“I want them to bring the kids and feel like a family. That’s my goal. And I’m happy when they say, ‘Ah, the soup was just like my mother used to do it.’ I like that. Because that’s how I actually cook.”

She does not use preservatives or MSG, she said, noting she isn’t sure what MSG is.

Carlo said he is a fan of his wife’s cooking, which she does at home too. They bake homemade bread 10 to 15 times a day at the restaurant, he said.

The menu offers a variety of options, including appetizers such as baked clams and hand-stuffed mushrooms; soups such as Pasta Faggioli made with 16 different beans; chicken and steak salads; filled pastas such as three-cheese ravioli and Asiago gnocchi; meals such as Penne Puttanesca, Fettuccine Alfredo and Chicken Parmigiana, and Milillo’s Linguine made with mussels, clams and shrimp that are cooked in a garlic-butter wine sauce and served with linguine. The dessert menu offers such sweet treats as cannolis and cheesecake.

They serve homemade Manicotti stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and herbs and baked with their homemade marinara sauce, according to Carlo and the menu.

Their homemade Lasagna offers layers of meat sauce and cheeses. Their fresh salmon is marinated with Italian herbs, and brushed with extra virgin olive oil.

Upon request, the restaurant also started offering gluten-free bread, pizza and pastas.

While the flour used for the bread is bought locally, the gluten-free pasta comes from New York, Carlo said.

Marco, who speaks with a New York accent, used to work in a New York Italian fine dining restaurant. He enjoys the challenge of feeding customers, he said.

“The … busier they are, the more of a challenge it is,” he said. “I get happy when it’s complicated. It makes me want to work harder, I guess.”

A good meal is made with one’s “whole effort” and “love,” he said.

Chad Detwiler of Hollidaysburg enjoys the large portions he gets at a low cost, he said, while dining at the restaurant Friday with his wife, Lindsay, who said she likes the restaurant’s house dressing.

Shannon Hancuff of Hollidaysburg, who had met her friend, Leighann Kozak of Altoona, for lunch, eats at the restaurant about every other month, she said.

“It’s a nice location,” Kozak said.

On Friday, the two spilt a turkey sub and a stromboli.

Hancuff likes Milillo’s “because of the authentic Italian food,” she said.

“I’ve had the stromboli here and the pizza, and this is the first time I’ve had the turkey sub,” Kozak said. “It was good.”

“I’ve never had anything bad here,” Hancuff said. “It’s all good.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.