At the heart of Altoona's Villa Capri restaurant is Vincenzo Scolaro, the owner whose vodka sauce attracts people from a distance.
"Vinny is known for his vodka sauce. People come from Pittsburgh just to get a case of it and bring it back," said his wife and co-owner, Marcy, sitting inside the dining room of the restaurant that opened about four years ago.
Inside, the restaurant's ceiling is black and tables draped in the same color are dotted with white cloth napkins tucked into wine glasses. A red brick wall divides the main dining room from an overflow area and wine bottles accent the room and paintings of Italy adorn the walls.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Villa Capri owner and chef Vincenzo Scolaro poses with some of his dishes.
(From left)?Eileen Callahan, Mary Jane Fanelli, Dan Fanelli and Pat Callahan, all of Altoona, dine at Villa Capri.
The Sicilian native, 46, who is one of seven siblings, came to the United States in 1987. He is a stepfather to Marcy's children, Jacob, 13, and Chelsea, 11.
Scolaro does the cooking at his restaurant and learned to do so watching others, he said.
He worked at his cousin's Borderline Cafe Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Riegelsville, and then his family's restaurant and bar, also called Villa Capri, in Doylestown, before buying the building that used to house Olivo's Restaurant to strike out on his own in 2009.
Address: 101 East Second Avenue, the former Olivo's Restaurant
Phone number: 201-2043
Online: on Facebook under Villa Capri Italian Restaurant
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays. Will open Sundays and Mondays for private parties.
Price range: $3.50 to $19.95
Atmosphere: casual/fine dining
Specialties and popular dishes: vodka sauce, chicken parmigiana, veal, fish
Popular menu items at the Altoona restaurant include the chicken parmigiana, and fish and veal meals, Marcy, 41, said.
They get fresh meat daily from nearby Blochers Meat Market.
"His chicken parm is wonderful. Chicken Joseph. He probably has too many things on the darn menu. All of the eggplant, the Eggplant Rolatini is outstanding," customer and friend Dave Balestino said.
Besides making and canning sauce made from his mom's recipe, Scolaro makes everything from scratch, including fresh bread daily and four kinds of gnocchi, Vincenzo said.
He uses fresh tomatoes from the area when they are in season, Balestino said.
"His sauces are from scratch and he won't have it any other way," he said. "I say, 'Vinny, cheat like everyone else does. You know, just go out and buy sauce and doctor it up and it'll be good.'"
"No!" Balestino answers himself, imitating his friend's voice.
Diners can bring their own wine, liquor or beer to enjoy with their meal, but a complimentary glass of red or white wine is offered.
On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, meals are all $13.95, and come with a salad and dessert.
The menu is extensive and was cut down twice, but Scolaro creates new dishes when he gets bored and the delicious results end up getting added, Marcy said.
A special touch has caught on at the restaurant, which hosts private parties and delivers to businesses.
For her husband's birthday one year, Marcy pushed two tables together and served the meal family style.
"People go nuts over that, which I never expected," she said. "I just made it for him the one day and everybody's like, 'Oo, I want one.'"
At Villa Capri, they aren't looking for patrons to just grab a quick meal.
"They like the atmosphere a lot because they can sit and talk," Marcy said of what people like about coming to Villa Capri. "And I really love it when, the waitresses might not a lot, but I love it when I see somebody finish their meal at 7 and stay until 9.
"Because then I know they're having a really good time, they're drinking their wine, they're full and they're just having a good time, and it's a good atmosphere for that. So a lot of people say to me they come here because they can talk."
Patrons probably also enjoy what line cook Christy Shumac, who developed skills and learned from Vincenzo, said she tries to do for the them: "always make sure that they're happy, content and fed well."
Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.