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   DEEP ROOTS Italian Cuisine in El Paso
2010 - Volume 1 Issue 2
¡Comidas Sabroso!
Article: Joe Burgess
Photos: Joe Burgess
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The history of Italian food in El Paso primarily has been a story about relatives and close friends. Once the first independent Italian restaurant opened, a truck began delivering the ingredients specific to Italian cuisine to El Paso, opening the door for other Italian restaurants that were able to share that truck.

    Photo Captions

1.) Robert, Marina and Joseph Ardovino

2.) Frank Ardovino

3.) Edward Davis, Jr.

4.) Eddie Davis, Albert Sala and Ralph Davisa

Desert Crossing

1 Ardovinos Dr.
Sunland Park, NM

Italian Restaurant

2716 Montana Ave.
El Paso, TX
There didn’t appear to be an issue of competition, but rather one of cooperation. Eddie Davis, Sr., who restarted Cappetto’s in the 1950s, first sought out blessings from his boss, Sam Maranto of Italian Kitchen, located just three blocks away in the Five Points District. Eddie, in turn, trained his wife’s nephews for the purpose of opening Michelino’s in the 1970s.

There were no chain restaurants in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and the family-owned restaurants, including Italian, were only open in the evenings for dinner.A contingency from the Italian air force stationed at Fort Bliss was one of the driving forces at that time for establishing Italian food restaurants.

Ardovino’s Desert Crossing

Ardovino’s Desert Crossing in Sunland Park, originally called Ardovino’s Roadside Inn, was started by Frank Ardovino in 1949. Frank operated the restaurant until his death in 1973. It was leased out for three years and then closed for 17 before reopening as Ardovino’s Desert Crossing.

Frank’s nephew, Joe Ardovino, began helping Frank with the restaurant and then Joe opened Ardovino’s, a shop for Italian groceries on Cincinnati Street, in 1961. In 1962, Joe married Maria DiBonito and Ardovino’s soon turned into a gourmet shop and pizza restaurant. “Our mom was a pioneer in the business. With her warm Italian hospitality, she exposed El Paso to imported food they had never tried before.” states Marina Ardovino. Joe and Maria stayed with the Ardovino’s Cincinnati Street location 32 years, ultimately selling it to Mike Myers.

Originally, the two buildings on the Ardovino’s Roadside Inn property in Sunland Park were the Ranch House and the Barn. The Barn was built for the Border Patrol (New York Cavalry). Both buildings fell into disrepair during the years that the restaurant was closed. Marina and Robert Ardovino, Joe and Maria’s children, took on the arduous task of renovating and bringing the buildings back to their original luster and elegance. The Ranch House was first upgraded into a private party facility, then the Barn was renovated to become the Sunset Hall banquet facility, and finally the Ranch House was revamped to return as a restaurant. The first boards were removed from windows in 1993 and their first party was held in 1997. “That first party was a real eye-opener,” states Marina. “We didn’t even have a dishwasher. There were 300 guests and when it was over, there were dishes stacked everywhere.”

“It’s a difficult business,” says Robert. “You have to balance your passions with the actual high and low points of the operation.”

Nine years ago, Robert started a farmer’s market on Saturdays in the restaurant parking lot. The Ardovino’s Farmers Market has grown to be one of the largest and most respected farmers markets in New Mexico. “Our commitment in the restaurant is to purchase the best natural ingredients. We buy fresh vegetables from the local farmers and we raise chickens for fresh eggs. Those products, when available, are used in our seasonal dishes.” The restaurant began offering Saturday and Sunday brunch, which ties in well with the market and features an innovative menu with local and organic ingredients.

“Since we opened, we have added the large outdoor pizza oven, patio and a full-service bar” Robert continues. “We frequently feature live music in the restaurant and on the outdoor patio, and the banquet facility remains a popular location for special occasions.” The view of the valley lights in the evening from the restaurant and the banquet facility makes Ardovino’s Desert Crossing a special destination.

“It is very rewarding that people want to bring their friends and guests here,” relates Marina. “A lot of good memories have been created at Ardovino’s, both in our era and back when our great uncle and our parents were involved. We intend to continue the Italian hospitality, good service and consistent quality that makes that possible.”

Cappetto’s Italian Restaurant

“Sam Maranto may have been first to offer Italian food when he opened Italian Kitchen on Pershing Drive in 1948,” states Edward Davis of Cappetto's, “and Frank Ardovino shortly thereafter in Sunland Park. My Dad, Eddie Davis, was driving a delivery truck during the day and working for Sam at the Italian Kitchen at night.”

Paul Cappetto started his restaurant on Montana in 1954 while still driving trains for Southern Pacific. When Paul had a grasp on the amount of work involved, he opted to close the restaurant in 1956. Eddie Davis recognized an opportunity for himself, but kept the Cappetto’s name because of its established following. It was operated by Eddie and his wife, Alice, until Eddie’s death in 1983, at which time Edward, Junior, took over and continues today as proprietor of Cappetto’s on Montana Street.

“Dad had only a one-page menu and today my dessert menu is that big,” says Edward. “I had traveled and visited Italian restaurants in other cities, but the expanded menu and longer hours were simply the result of a changing market. Today the independent restaurants must compete with the chain restaurants and we survive because of good service, the use of fresh ingredients and tight oversight by the owners.”

“Italian Kitchen, where Dad first worked, is now operated by Sam and Rita Maranto’s children,” relates Edward, “and Rita still stops by to check the business. Albert Sala started Sorrento Italian Restaurant on Dyer and sold it to George Malooly, a friend of Dad’s. George’s daughter, Marsha, now manages the business and she and I have remained friends.”

“Albert Sala moved to Albuquerque, but two years later, returned to El Paso and opened Bella Napoli on Mesa in 1963. Albert passed away in the 1980s, and his wife, Maria, continued the operation until a few years ago when she turned it over to her nephews, brothers Luis and Jose Cordova, the current owners. Their father, Cruz Cordova, spent many years in the kitchen.”

“My Dad’s brother Ralph Davis started Como’s Italian Restaurant, originally a little place on San Francisco Street. It moved next to the plaza when the Camino Real Hotel expanded and later to Mesa Street. He passed away 2 months after Dad. His wife continued with the restaurant, eventually selling it to Bill Aziz, also an old family friend.”

“Dominic’s is owned by Richard John and he is helped by his son, Michael. Hardly any of us are Italian,” laughs Edward. “Richard’s father and my mom’s dad were cousins. The Ardovinos are the real Italians. No, they aren’t related to us, but we are all friends and we all work hard to maintain Italian food as it is meant to be.” ///
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