Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pete D'Agnese Interview – August 1976

Way back in October 2010 (here), I did a post about the well-remembered D'Agnese's Restaurant and Pizza businesses. (I still think about a great sub I had once from the Root Road store.)

Well, here's a nice article about Pete D'Agnese Sr. that tells the story of his businesses and also offers some of his thoughts and advice about Italian cooking. It was written by Bill Scrivo and ran in the Lorain Journal on August 15, 1976.

Bill Scrivo's People
Lorain's Pete D'Agnese Sr: He Speaks Universal Language of Good Food

IF THERE IS a universal language in this world, it has to be food. Everyone understands a juicy steak, a tasty dish of chicken paprikas, a good cheese blintzes or a succulent serving of spaghetti.

No one appreciates good food more than Peter D'Agnese Sr., who certainly has to rank as one of the premier Italian cooks of Lorain County, if not the state of Ohio.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., the son of a baker who came to America from Italy, Pete D'Agnese learned his profession at the side of his father and mother. He cooks in the Neapolitan tradition which some say is the finest example of the Italian cuisine.

Being a good cook is no mean accomplishment in any ethnic culture. To be an acknowledged capo cucina in the Italian tradition is perhaps one of the most coveted of culinary accomplishments, since most everyone loves Italian food.

If you don't believe that, look at the vast pizza industry in the United States. Four decades ago, pizza was unheard of here, except in families of Italian immigrants who came here in the great migration some 30 years before. Pizza began as a sort of treat for the kids mothers made with dough left over from making bread.

"THEY ADDED TOMATOES and spices and that was the first pizza," says Pete D'Agnese.

It was not only the first pizza. It marked the beginning of the love affair of the American people with Italian food in general. And like any love affair, it has its secrets, some of which Pete D'Agnese is willing to share in the interests of good eating, or "Buon appetito," as they say in Italian.

"The best ingredient in good Italian cooking is honesty," says Pete D’Agnese. "You must use fresh vegetables when possible and good cheeses.

"Don't ever buy something because you can get it for a few pennies cheaper."

Most important of all, Pete D'Agnese says:

"The seasoning should whisper, not scream."

BORN JUNE 2, 1920 in Brooklyn, Pete D'Agnese was the youngest of four children of Fortunato D'Agnese and his wife, both immigrants from the south of Italy.

Pete's schooling was gained mainly at the side of his father in the bakery.

"Mother was an excellent cook," Pete recalls, "But Dad was even better."

At any rate, Pete came to Lorain in 1947, not as a cook, but to enter the lumber and construction business. It was a case of success without happiness and in 1963 he opened a restaurant on Broadway in Lorain.

"Cooking was always my first love," says Pete. "I was aware of the life giving qualities of good food."

HIS BROADWAY restaurant was acknowledged as one of the best and it was in operation until 1969 when rising costs caught up with Pete D'Agnese and he sold out to go back into the construction business.

After four years away from his chosen profession, the urge became too strong and Pete D'Agnese got back in the food business with a sandwich and pizza shop at 41st and Broadway. The business soon outgrew the small building there and Pete moved to a new location at 916 Root Road, Lorain, which he operates today with his wife, Barbara, and son, Peter Jr.

There he had space to carry a full line of imported and domestic foods, plus operate a pizza and sandwich shop and handle his growing catering business.

"IN ITALIAN COOKING, good is not enough, it must be superb," says Pete D'Agnese. And he means it.

Continuing with his secrets of good cooking, Italian style, he insists that fresh lean meat should be used and most important a good grade of vine-ripened tomatoes.

"The plum tomatoes, commonly called Italian tomatoes, are best," Pete says. If they are out of season, use a superior grade of canned tomatoes, imported from Italy or California plum tomatoes if the imported variety is not available.

"A good sauce can be made on the strength of the tomatoes," Pete points out. "No meat is needed." He used the following recipe for marinara sauce, which can be used "as is" over pasta or combined with chopped clams, lobster, shrimp or calamari squid to make a more exotic dish.

Brown garlic in pure olive oil
Add fresh plum tomatoes, crushed
Add salt and coarse ground black pepper to taste
Add fresh Italian parsley and basil
Simmer gently for one half hour.

Use sauce over linguine, rigatoni, spaghetti or other pasta of your choice, cooked al dente (literally "to the bite," or not soft and mushy).

Pete D'Agnese has some definite ideas on how pizza should be made too.

First of all, he says, the cheese should be natural and well fortified with protein. Properly spiced tomatoes should be used on a freshly prepared pizza crust that contains no chemical additives, he goes on.

"After all, the Neapolitans originated pizza," he says proudly.

PETE MAKES all his own sauces, sausages, and dough in his shop on Root Road.

"In this way we can be assured of freshness and quality," he says.

Sausage is made from lean cuts of pork butt, not trimmings, and must be freshly seasoned, Pete says.

"I was happy to see the recent series in The Journal by Lelord Kordel," says Pete. "I makes people aware that they are basically what they eat."

"Women have been seeking the fountain of youth at their drugstores," he goes on. "It really lies in their food stores. The inner glow that they seek comes from within, not from a powder puff."

Pete adds that people in Europe – Italy, France and Greece especially – have known this for a long, long time.

"THIS IS THE reason they are far more food conscious and more attuned to gourmet cooking that we are," he says.

"To prove this, they have fought wars over spices. Our word 'salary' comes from the Latin 'salarium' which the Romans paid their mercenaries with."

Pete finds it odd that a nation such as the United States exists mainly on what he calls "junk" foods.

"Shakespeare summed it up when he denounced the eaters of 'broken meat'," says Pete. "That's what we know as hamburger today."

Pete D'Agnese caters to parties and dinners from his Root Road outlet but only when he is sure the facilities are adequate at the party site to insure that the food can be served with "a sparkling taste of freshness without no meal is complete."

"WE ACCEPT catering only if we feel we can do complete justice to the occasion," Says Pete. "Primarily we put accomplishment before profit."

The former D'Agnese outlet on Root Road today
(Courtesy Lorain County Auditor)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Ownership for the Castle – August 1976

The restaurant that many of us think of simply as the Castle changed hands recently, and because Castillo Real. I certainly wish them well. The new owners are to be commended for keeping open an iconic local institution.

The spouse and I planned to eat there last Saturday night, but the rapidly growing size of the curious crowd that was waiting for a table convinced us to seek sustenance elsewhere. But we'll try again sometime.

The Castle changed hands back in 1976 too. Read all about it in this article written by Bob Cotleur that ran in the Lorain Journal on Monday, August 9, 1976.

Carl Gumina Leads Group Buying Castle-on-the-Lake Restaurant
Staff Writer

LORAIN'S Castle-on-the-Lake Restaurant has been acquired by a trio of area businessmen "but that's only the beginning of the change," according to contractor - developer Carl Gumina, 52, one of the new owners.

Gumina said today that he and Plumbing Contractor Ronnie Gold, 42, had bought a 50 percent interest and Rich Roman, in his early 30's and a son-in-law to Olga Blondyn bought the other 50 percent.

"Mrs. Blondyn, who bought the Castle with her late husband Walter back in the early 60's is retiring," he added.

Gumina said a number of plans have been made for renovating and updating the restaurant.

"We will pave the lakeside parking lot before fall," he said, "and next year we are going to provide parking in front as well.

"WE WILL ALSO have a front canopied entrance and someone to park your car on weekends. This place should have had a front entrance a long time ago."

He also said the wall between the present bar area and the main dining room will be removed and that considerable interior decorating is also planned.

"Rich Roman will be the manager,"Gumina said, "and our chief goal is to improve service. No change in the menu is planned nor are there any plans to change personnel."

What will Gumina take a personal interest in?

He laughed. "Lou Kepler said it the other day in her Journal column. She said I bought the Castle so I could sing in my own place.

"WILL I? Sure I will."

Gumina's main activity however is with Gumina Construction Co., Oberlin Ave. He had built numerous homes, apartments, the first condominium in Lorain County (in Avon) and other structures in a number of states other than Ohio.

He plans to continue his company and also his deep interest in area boxing and boxing shows.


The Castle is one of those topics that I seem to keep coming back to again and again.

I did a multi-part history of it beginning here back in 2010, and did several posts connected with specific ads, including one with 1941 and 1952 ads, a 1954 Thanksgiving ad, a 1955 St. Patrick's Day ad, a 1958 Halloween ad and a 1967 ad.

I also posted a 1975 Bill Scrivo interview with Olga Blondyn that included a nice history of the place.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Make Some Real Lemonade

Summer is slipping away (judging by all of the school buses I’ve been getting stuck behind during my commute lately), and I realized last week that I hadn’t made a batch of real lemonade yet this year.

By real lemonade, I don’t mean lemonade made from a powdered mix that somehow you’re supposed to feel nostalgic about, either. I mean the kind where you squeeze the lemons and grate some of the peel to put in it. If you’ve never had it, you don’t know what you’re missing.

So I recently mixed up a batch of it, using up about six lemons. I use the recipe in this 1958 Good Housekeeping recipe booklet (below) that’s been in the family for years.

And here’s the spread with the recipe. There’s some other interesting recipes to try on there as well. An Orange Rickey sounds pretty good.
You’ll note that the lemonade recipe is not for making a pitcher of lemonade. It’s for making a starter concentrate that you then use to make one glass at a time.
Here’s another page from the book with a few more drinks, including Canadian Iced Tea. Just the thing to enjoy with some back bacon or poutine.
Finally, here’s the Good Housekeeping booklet’s photo of the lemonade, although you might not notice it in the picture because of the deliciously distracting Buffet Scrambled Eggs, Crunchy Kidney-Bean Salad and Spiced Crabapples.
Strangely enough, Country Time Lemonade has apparently taken its cue from these types of vintage recipes and is now marketing its own Lemonade Starter – flavored with 5% real lemon juice.
As for me, I’ll stick with the real thing that’s 100% real lemon juice. I guess that’s why I like those Lemon Shake-ups that they sell at the Lorain County Fair.

(I’m not a snob when it comes to orange juice, though. I’ll drink just about any kind, name brand or obscure store brand, with or without pulp – whatever’s the cheapest.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Gene Autry and Annie Oakley at the 1957 Lorain County Fair

July 29, 1957 Lorain Journal ad promoting Gene Autry’s appearance at the Fair
It’s Lorain County Fair Week – one of my favorite weeks of the year! It’s the perfect time to look back at what kind of entertainment was featured at a past fair, in this case the 1957 edition – 58 years ago.

None other than Gene Autry, America’s Favorite Singing Cowboy was the headliner, along with his horse Champion. (Also appearing was Little Champ, a “well-trained trick pony” according to Champion’s Wikipedia page.)

As this ad below, which ran in the August 17, 1957 edition of the Lorain Journal reveals, there was something for everyone at the 1957 Lorain County Fair.
Musical acts included Mel Tillis (who is still touring), Minnie Pearl, the Smith Twins and the Great Scots barbershop quartet from Steubenville, Ohio. (The international finalist quartet performed in full dress Scottish kilts.)
For more Western fun, there was Annie Oakley (Actress Gail Davis) from the syndicated television series of the same name that ran from January 1954 to February 1957. Annie Oakley was produced by Gene Autry’s Flying A Productions, and Davis had also appeared in many films for Gene’s Autry’s production company.
Gail Davis as Annie Oakley
For thrills, there were Jack Kochman’s Auto Daredevils. Here’s a link to the website with some information about auto thrill show producer Jack Kochman.

And here’s a small sample of the type of show that the crowd at the Fair might have seen that day.

And for the 2015 Lorain County Fair’s entertainment lineup, click here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Massacre Mile

For decades now, whenever I've driven south on State Route 58 (Leavitt Road) past Jaeger Road, I’ve thought about the old "Massacre Mile” moniker for that stretch of the highway.

I’ve never really heard of anyone outside of my family call the road that, so I was surprised to see this article (below) from the August 27, 1976 edition of the Journal refer to it by that name. I guess the newspaper must be where my parents first heard of it. Consequently, they warned my siblings and me to be careful there as we each learned how to drive.

Since Massacre Mile is not exactly something to get nostalgic about, here, in the name of public safety, is the article. ( Hopefully things have improved safety-wise along Leavitt Road in the decades since.

Massacre Mile: A Busy Avenue of Death and Injury
Staff Writer

LORAINITES Terry and Joann Walczak, both 29, are very lucky people.

On August 16, at 6:25 p.m. their car collided with a car driven by Rodney Bowling, 29, of Amherst, along the stretch of Leavitt Road by Jaeger Road called “Massacre Mile.”

They are doubly lucky. First, because neither the Walczaks, of 4247 Miami Ave., Lorain, nor Bowling, was injured seriously enough to need hospitalization, despite the fact that Bowling, of 5524 Virginia Dr., Amherst, was found guilty of driving left of center, and driving under a license suspension.

Secondly, they are lucky because that stretch of Leavitt Road is commonly considered one of the most dangerous sections of road in the city.

Altogether, there have been 31 accidents along Leavitt Road this year. Seven have involved injuries and two have resulted in deaths.

Most of the accidents have been near the major cross streets: Tower Boulevard, Cooper Foster Park Road, and Jaeger Road.

IT DOES not look like a particularly dangerous section of road to the average driver. It curves around Jaeger Road and SR 254, but not so drastically that a good driver can’t manage it without any problems.

Because of the road’s banking, 50 miles per hour seems like an easy speed to maintain.

Yet since the road was widened from two lanes to four more than ten years ago, it has been the scene of innumerable auto accidents, many resulting in fatalities.

Most recently, on Saturday night, July 31, a 17-year-old Lorain woman was killed and her sister, the car’s driver, was seriously injured, when their car collided with another car while she was trying to turn left onto Jaeger Road.

On July 16, a 29-year-old motorcyclist was killed by W. 37th Street and Leavitt Road when his bike was hit by a car.

BEFORE THAT, in November of last year, a 59-year-old Lorain woman was killed in front of 4945 Leavitt Rd. in a head-on crash.

Residents of Leavitt Road have made it a ritual to complain about the road as the accidents have continued. In April of 1975, they tried and failed to get Lorain City Council to vote to lower the speed limit from 50 to 35 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, the string of traffic deaths, injury accidents, and even car – tree or car – mailboxd crashes continue.

Police cite various problems with the road and its users. Alcohol, slippery conditions, and poor judgement all share responsibility, but the nature of the road itself, with its four lanes and sweeping curves, must share part of the blame.

POLICE ARE also careful to note that “Massacre Mile” is not the only road in the city to have a high accident rate, and often wonder why other trouble spots get less publicity.

For example, the major intersections along Broadway, West and East Erie Avenue, E. 28th Street, Oberlin Avenue, and the city’s numerous railroad crossings have claimed far more lives, and resulted in many more accidents.

But because this road was once a mere two-lane link between Amherst and Lorain, an infrequently traveled piece of asphalt compared to the present thoroughfare, people stand in front of their homes on Leavitt Road and wonder at what the road was, and what it is now.

One resident once sent the following description of an accident to The Journal:

“In less than 15 seconds, a man driving the same road I travel every day was unconscious, blood pouring out of holes in his head and neck, breathing spasmodically, twisted and jerking in his ripped, torn automobile. Another man lay on the side of the road in a huddled, fetal position. He must have flown through the windshield, smashed it with his weight at 50 mph (or more) when the cars hit.”

It would be very hard to tell that witness that “Massacre Mile” is just another traffic problem.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Firelands Country Store Reopens

September 2012 view
Remember the Firelands Country Store (above) on State Route 113 in Birmingham? It was the place to buy many hard-to-find and unique items from candy to cookware.

And then, without warning, it closed – with its stock still on the shelves, visible from the highway through the windows. I’ve driven by it for years, wondering what the story was behind the closing.

Well, as Lisa Roberson reported in the Chronicle-Telegram on Tuesday (here), the Firelands Country Store has reopened – for a limited time, that is. Her well-written story explains the reason that it closed so abruptly in the 1980s, and why it has suddenly opened its doors for a final close-out sale.

Her article reveals that the store has been there since 1958.

Anyway, it would certainly be interesting to make it in there for a last look, although its hours (Monday through Friday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm) make it a little difficult for those of us who work in Cleveland. I’ll have to see if I can make it there some time before it closes for good.

My mother shopped in there for years, and can still point to the items in her home that she purchased there. Plus, she bought a lot of candy there to bring on our cross-country camping trips for our family to munch on in the car.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

SR2 From Baumhart Road to Huron Opens – August 1975

The 1966 article in yesterday’s post about the construction of I-90 in Lorain County mentioned a portion of the highway from Baumhart to Huron that hadn’t been built yet. It stated that the stretch from Baumhart Road to Huron "hopefully will gain a high priority to maintain the continuity of the system. These plans are now in detailed design and there is no financing problem.”

How long did it take to finally finish that section of the highway, known today as part of State Route 2? The article below from the August 11, 1975 Journal tells the story.


Lorain-Berlin Heights Link Of SR2 Opening About Aug. 25
Norwalk Bureau Chief

VERMILION – The new portion of SR2 linking Lorain and the Berlin Heights - Huron area will be opened to traffic on Aug. 25, according to Bob Whidden, construction engineer at District III of the State Department of Highways in Ashland.

Contractor John Baltes said he’s figuring on completing work on Aug. 15 “plus or minus a few days.”

Baltes said the long delayed project needs a few signs and some final touchup work. The signs have arrived but must be put in place. There is also some insulation work and some painting to be done at the rest area building.

Baltes’ company was responsible for a 4.949 - mile section of the highway including 11 bridges from Baumhart Road in Lorain County to SR60 south of Vermilion. It was supposed to have been completed last October but State Transportation Department officials granted the firm an extension of time.

Another section from SR60 to SR61 in Erie County was completed on time by Peirce Construction Company and Mosser Construction Company. It involved 6.875 miles of highway and 13 bridges.

Opening the entire new section will mean fast and easy access for people to and from central Erie County including the Huron and Berlin Heights areas.

In case you’re wondering if you're experiencing a case of déja vu, you’re not. I posted a photo about a year ago related to this very same topic.