By Jacqueline Rupp
Spaghetti and meatballs, chicken parmigiana, a good ol’ fashion hand-thrown pizza pie… This is classic Italian-American comfort food at its best. And this is what Riviera D’Italia Restaurant and Pizzeria at 1185 Easton Rd. in Roslyn (just past Glenside) is all about.
But what gives Riviera its heart and soul isn’t just the hearty pasta dishes the restaurant serves up; it’s the family behind the business. Salvatore and Brigid Sparacio have the quintessential American success story. Sal, the exuberant Italian import with the infectious laugh, affable nature and melodic accent who works in his family’s pizza shop, falls in love and gets the beautiful American girl, takes over the family business and builds a life for his family around it.
Riviera began with Salvatore’s family opening a modest neighborhood pizzeria. This year the BYOB is celebrating its 25th anniversary in serving up Italian comfort food. Obviously some staying power, especially in an industry that sees so many similar restaurants come and go in the blink of an eye. For Salvatore, 49, originally from Sicily, and Brigid, 44, a native of Roslyn, ‘Riviera’ has been a key part of their lives. “Sal worked there with his cousins,” said Brigid. “I started working there in 1989. It was my first job. I could walk to work, and I stayed there as I started school to become an accountant. Sal and I started dating and got married, and I decided to stay with the restaurant rather than go into a separate career.”
Bridget does get to use her business training in managing and marketing their special events. And now the couple’s children, Maria, 17, and Peter, 15, both work in the family business too, graduating from busing tables to serving, hosting and handling large parties.
The restaurant has grown as well from its small start. Sal bought the family business, and in 2012 the family expanded into what was once a bank on Easton Road. Right down to the bank vault, the restaurant was designed to be bright and airy, with a classic Italian feel.
Brigid says the family’s cooking philosophy is quite simple: “Begin with the best ingredients, and things will taste great. We like to keep things simple and good.” Her favorite items on the menu right now are their fresh salmon dishes, like farfalle al salmone ($18.95) served in a pink sauce.
On our recent visit to Riviera, we sampled many classic dishes. We put the pizza to the test against so many great Philly pies, and Riviera’s was delicious, with its crunchy crust and sweet sauce. Riviera also makes a great Caesar salad, serves up delicious homemade bread and hits the mark with traditional fare like pasta, antipasto and hot sandwiches.
The chicken saltimbocca ($16.95), is a fresh serving of chicken breast with prosciutto and fresh mozzarella in a white wine sage sauce, while the eggplant rollatine ($15.95) is a generous portion of golden battered and baked eggplant stuffed with herbed ricotta in red sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese and done to perfection. They’ve also expanded the menu to include several gluten-free options.
When the family isn’t running the restaurant, Brigid says, “Believe it or not, we like to go out to eat because we don’t get a break when we’re at the restaurant, so we like to just have some time to enjoy ourselves.” When the family isn’t checking out their dining contemporaries in the area, Brigid says they like to go “anywhere there is a beach.”
Thanks to its longevity, Riviera has a strong community following. “We have had people coming in for years, and we have gotten to know so many families,” said Brigid.
Riviera also a long history of hosting fundraiser nights, donating a portion of the revenue to local charities, schools and the fire company. “This month,” added Brigid, “we’re donating portions of our profits to the Glenside 4th of July Parade and Fireworks.”
For more information, call 215-5676-6888 or visit www.rivieraditalia.com