It’s hard to pick out a favorite picture — or find the one that best illustrates three generations of an Italian family as it made its way from Castel Ruggero, a small village in the Campania region of Southern Italy, to Brooklyn, to New Jersey.
Luigino Tripodi, owner of Luigino’s Parmigiana — a bistro that just opened at 173 Glenridge Ave. in Montclair — gives it a shot as he looks over the mural of black-and-white photos that cover a main wall in the dining area.
There’s the one with his grandfather holding up the mother of all mushrooms, the one where his relatives are making wine and cheese in the old country — and the one where his father is proudly posing with the first Cadillac he purchased after coming over to the States.
There is a picture of his parents on their wedding day. And there is a picture of seemingly everyone in a village that only has about 400 residents that looks like …
“Straight out of ‘The Godfather,’” Tripodi said. “That’s circa 1892 — and the place hasn’t changed a bit.”
The wall collage represents everything Tripodi wants Luigino’s Parmigiana to be — a location where multigenerations can gather, one where food brings them together.
“I want families to come in and eat and have a memorable time,” he said. “I want people to come in and say, ‘I feel like I’m sitting in Luigi’s family’s home in Italy, eating like we used to eat every Sunday.’”
He seemingly has found the perfect location. Not just because it’s a few hundred feet from a new parking deck — or close to the Wellmont Theater, the soon-to-be renovated Lackawanna Train Station or new luxury loft apartments. It’s perfect because it’s a building from 1903, one with exposed brick and natural charm and ambiance that can only be created over generations.
“When I saw this place, I knew I had to be here,” Tripodi said.
Come for the atmosphere; stay for the food. You’ll find the menu is a bit of the old country mixed with a touch of Jersey, Tripodi said.
“The Cacio e Pepe and the Carbonara are made like you’re eating in Rome,” he said. “They are as traditional as you’re going to get.”
It happened so fast: Luigino Tripodi, owner of Luigino’s Parmigiana in Montclair, was able to open his restaurant just a few months after agreeing to a lease. Tripodi credits Montclair Mayor Sean Spiller and his economic development team.
“The town’s been unbelievably great to work with,” he said. “They did everything they could to help us. There were no delays on our inspections. I was able to get all my permits processed in a timely manner. I can’t say enough about working with them.”
The same goes for the artichokes, better known as Carciofi alla Romana — or the Mozzarella di Bufala, La Burrata or Eggplant le Parmigiana.
And then there’s the Pinsa, a Roman-style pizza made with roasted lamb, ricotta, pickled red onions, oil-cured olives and Calabrian chili.
“It’s basically a thin crust with very crispy dough,” he said. “It’s not popular here in the States yet, but it’s coming. We’re proud to be one of the few places that makes it.”
Tripodi is proud that so much of the meats and cheeses come from the Campania region. But there is plenty from New Jersey, too. Like the Gnocchi.
“The Gnocchi has been to die for,” he said. “Everyone loves it.”
The same can be said for the Pasta Fritta dessert, Tripodi said.
“It’s fried pasta with honey powdered sugar and a little colored confetti,” he said. “It’s a real traditional Neapolitan Southern Italian holiday treat.”
Tripodi feels the menu is a great mixture of traditional classic pasta dishes and meals (double-cut pork chops, short ribs, chicken parm, shrimp with prosciutto and mozzarella) served with modern flair (the soft polenta is prepared tableside).
And the portions are huge — like those Sunday night dinners.
“No one will ever leave here hungry,” Tripodi said.
Locals will know the location as the former home of Salute Brick Oven Bistro, a once-popular restaurant that fell on hard times coming out of the pandemic and closed last September.
Tripodi, who was looking to start his own place after years of serving as an executive chef, saw the potential when he first toured the building last December. The bones of a great restaurant were there. As were the exposed brick walls that you can’t find in modern buildings. It just needed an update.
By January, a deal was done. Tripodi then spent a few months updating the dining area and the kitchen.
“We brought the floors back to what they used to look like,” he said. “We did a lot of painting, a lot of cleaning. We updated some of the kitchen and created an open-facing pantry area in the restaurant.”
Guests will be able to watch as salads, fresh mozzarella, focaccia bread and espresso are prepared.
“We want that to be part of the atmosphere,” Tripodi said.
Luigino’s Parmigiana does not have a liquor license, but Tripodi said he’s got an even better arrangement.
The Wine Guys, an establishment around the corner on Bloomfield Avenue, has created a wine menu like any you would find in Jersey. Orders are delivered to the restaurant in minutes — and sold at liquor store prices, without a heavy markup.
Tripodi likes it that way. He wants to concentrate on the food.
It’s the same reason Luigino’s Parmigiana will only be open on Wednesday through Sunday. He wants the same staff working every night, so the food and the service maintains consistency.
The restaurant will serve lunch and dinner, but the dining room (which seats 90) is available for catered parties (personal and corporate), especially on the weekends.
By the end of the month, when the furniture arrives and the weather warms, an additional 40 seats will be available in an outdoor seating area, Tripodi said.
The family atmosphere Tripodi is creating at Luigino’s Parmigiana goes beyond his own family.
Tripodi gives much of the success for the restaurants opening to three people who worked at Salute: General Manager Alex Cordova and Head Chefs Jose Upa and Memmo Tigre. Newcomer Keisha Jaigobind also has been a key leader.
As you look around Luigino’s Parmigiana in Montclair, you can’t help but notice dozens of fedoras hanging on the wall.
“That’s a tribute to my grandfather Pietro,” owner Lou Tripodi said. “He always wore a fedora. I wanted to honor him.”
“They are as responsible as anyone for helping to get this place up and running,” Tripodi said. “Alex knows how to run a restaurant and he knows everyone in the area. Chef Jose and Chef Memmo are incredible. Everything comes out perfect.
“I couldn’t have done this without them.”
The Tripodi family influence runs deep, too.
His wife, Kirsten Tripodi, a longtime restaurant manager and college hospitality professor who works as the director of a program at Montclair State, brings her wealth of knowledge. Their son, Pete Tripodi, a college student who is fluent in Italian, is studying to be an ambassador with the State Department and works part-time for an agency that creates high-end trips to Italy, is helping with the marketing efforts.
“They have been tremendous,” Tripodi said.
The friends and family soft opening brought Tripodi’s 94-year-old mom, Josephine Tripodi, who posed in front of pictures from a long-ago era. So did Tripodi’s cousin, Benny, who can be seen as a youngster, posing with his family during one of those Sunday meals.
As Tripodi scanned the wall, he couldn’t help but stop at the picture that seemingly grabs everyone’s eye: It’s a young girl in her First Communion dress.
“That’s my sister Angela,” Tripodi said, his voice trailing off just a bit. “She passed away three years ago. She’s one of the reasons I wanted to open this. It’s a tribute to her. She’s a reminder that you need to celebrate your family.”
And what better way to do it than during a traditional Italian meal.
“I want this to be a place where you can gather with family and friends,” Tripodi said. “Great food, laughter and love. That’s the vibe we’re going to have.”