That's right. Chazz: A Bronx Original hasn't even officially opened in Harbor East, and actor and restaurant partner Chazz Palminteri is already planning to open six or seven Chazz restaurants throughout the country in the next couple of years, mentioning Las Vegas and Atlantic City as possible locations.
It seems like an honor that Baltimore gets to be the first place to showcase the Bronx-style pizza and Italian dishes that he loves. "It's a dream I've always had," Chazz says. "I always wanted to open a restaurant, and I found the right people with Alessandro and Sergio [Vitale]."
Chazz met the Vitale brothers at their family restaurant Aldo's in Little Italy while searching for decent Italian food in Baltimore. He and the Vitales soon joined forces to present Baltimore with an authentic Bronx-style pizza, and more.
I had a chance to talk to Chazz, pictured, yesterday at the new restaurant, which officially opens to the public on June 24. There's an invitation-only grand opening on June 23, and a soft opening taking place before that.
A lot of media hoopla is going on this week as the actor makes radio and TV appearances, talks to reporters, and holds court at a restaurant corner booth called Chazz's table.
When I approach him, Chazz stands, looms over me—he's taller than I thought—shakes my hand, and says, "Come. Slide around," patting the seat next to him at the huge banquette. It's just him, a bunch of loose papers, empty water glasses, and his black man bag.
Okay, I say. After all, who am I to argue with the guy who played Sonny the mobster in "A Bronx Tale" (1993)? I sit and slide across the smooth black-leather seating as gracefully as I can (which isn't very).
Chazz likes this spot because the deep red walls and upholstery remind him of the bar in the "Bronx" movie on which the restaurant is themed. He wants to take diners back to that time, he says. (When he's not at the restaurant, anyone can sit at this sacred perch.)
Designer Rita St. Clair re-created scenes from the movie with dramatic wall murals, pictured above, an entranceway that looks like the New York subway, and stone blocks meant to represent the fronts of homes. It's gorgeous.
The coal-fired pizza oven, pictured, is the centerpiece at the "pizza altar," where workers are turning out pies like Margherita and pepperoni ($12-18). The pizza options will increase when the restaurant eventually serves lunch and offers takeout and curb-side pickup. The menu is still being tweaked under Sergio, who is the executive chef.
The one constant is the freshest ingredients. "I want to use the best food—hand-picked tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, flour mixed with Italian flour, the right water temperature for the dough," Chazz says. "I wanted to make a Bronx pizza."
Chazz, 59, lived in the Bronx until he was 19. He is the little boy Calogero or "C" in "A Bronx Tale," he tells me. He now lives in New York City with his wife and two children ages 15 and 9.
At the restaurant, other menu dishes include pork osso buco ($26), arancini (Sicilian rice balls stuffed with beef Bolognese, peas, and mozzarella, $4.95), and, one of Chazz's favorites, veal meatballs with whipped ricotta ($12).
The actor—who is most recognized for the "Bronx" movie and his Oscar nomination for "Bullets over Broadway—has been in 55 movies over his career. He's taking a month-long break from touring with his one-man show and other projects to be a presence at the Baltimore restaurant during its opening days.
I asked him if we can expect other celebrities to visit the restaurant. He laughs, "I'll invite them, but it's not the same as if they're right around the corner. When they're in town, I'll invite them, and the Yankees." He's a huge baseball fan.
I'm the last of his interviewers for the day. He looks weary. I thank him and tell him that I appreciate that he's answered the same questions he's probably heard for hours.
Chazz shakes his head and assure me he welcomes the questions. It's part of being in the spotlight.
"I'm blessed," he says of his life. "I'm a lucky man."
Photos by me