Where: La Rocca's Restaurant & Pizzeria, 940 Williamson St.
Occupation: Mom-and-pop owners of this family-run business.
Why you should go: La Rocca's has the right stuff ' well-prepared Sicilian comfort food and delish desserts.
What brought you from Marsala, Sicily, to Madison?
Vito: We came separately, with our families, in 1977. Both families are from Marsala, and both had relatives in Rockford, though we didn't know each other. I was 23 when I came to America. I'd just finished military service as a cook in the Italian army.
Cathy: I was a teenager. My parents opened an Italian restaurant in Rockford. Vito and I met at another Italian restaurant that belonged to mutual friends. Our first date was in still another Rockford Italian restaurant.
Vito: I remember, I made fun of the soup. We got married and decided to open our own place in '81. We heard Madison would be perfect. We drove up on the back roads. It was a snowy, icy day, and somehow we got lost in Stoughton. We stopped to ask directions, and the first person we met was an Italian lady. We stayed in Stoughton nine years and never saw her again. We always wondered what happened to her.
Our restaurant in Stoughton was called Marsala's Pizza. It's still there. But every immigrant dreams of going back home, and I made my dream come true. We sold the business in '90, packed what we had left in 11 suitcases, took our two little kids and went back to Marsala. We opened a restaurant in our home town and called it Great America. We made Chicago-style pizza ' we were the first ones in Italy to make large, family-size pizzas with lots of toppings.
Cathy: Italy is beautiful, but it's hard to make a living there. We came back to Wisconsin in '98. We lived in Brooklyn, worked at a bank and ran a little takeout place at night. In August of '05 we both lost our day jobs. Restaurants are what we know how to do, so we decided to go back into it full time. We opened La Rocca's in April this year.
Do people confuse La Rocca's with Rocky Rococo?
Cathy: All the time, until they come in and find out we're the opposite of Rocky's. We're not commercial. We make authentic, home-style food, all from scratch with fresh ingredients. These are the real Marsala recipes we grew up with.
Vito: But we've tweaked the pizza. I learned to make it in the States, not in Italy. I've been making pizza for 30 years, and going out to eat is my hobby. I've tried lots of pizzas on both sides of the Atlantic, and sometimes they've surprised me. My pies are the result of all that experience.
What's the perfect pizza?
Vito: We carry 30 toppings, but my favorite is classic, plain pizza ' just sauce, fresh tomato, fresh basil and a sprinkle of oregano.
Cathy: I hope people will try other things. My beef bruciole is very authentic. It's a holiday tradition in Italy, something your elderly aunts would make ' steak stuffed with ground beef, pine nuts, a slice of hard boiled egg and Romano cheese, pan fried in olive oil, then rolled and slow cooked in marinara sauce, served with a side of pasta.