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Meatball served with gravy and spaghetti alla chitarra.
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Watermelon salad of ricotta salada, radish, arugula, red onion with balsamic.
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Burrata, a starter dish with fresh mozzarella, cucumber, lime, and mint.
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Roasted Tomato with hazelnuts over garganelli pasta.
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Poached halibut with pickled potatoes, herbs, grapefruit, and olive oil.
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Ricotta Agnolotti with sweet corn, chanterelles, and arugula.
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Bar manager Jeffrey Mock mixes an Amaro Sour with Luxardo Abano, Amaro Sibilla, Lazzaroni Ttriplo, demarara gomme syrup, lemon, and egg white.
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The finished Amaro Sour presented in a vintage depression glass stem from Mock’s collection of barware.
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Mock mixes a Fernet ‘n’ Kola with Fernet Branca, Amaro Averna, cream sherry, kola nut syrup and soda.
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A Carpano dry vermouth poured over ice and served with a pitcher of soda water.
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The unfinished interior of Randolfi’s on July 16, 2015.
Sometimes what we hold dear becomes clear in what we’ve lost. So it is with restaurateur Mike Randolph. He’s transforming his Neapolitan pizza restaurant, The Good Pie, into Randolfi’s an homage to his father who died in April. Jerome Randolph, expert litigator, gentleman, and raconteur was father to the man who isn’t afraid to roll the culinary dice in a town long on tradition and skeptical of innovation.
“My dad was so proud of his Italian heritage. I want people to know the back story of Randolfi’s,” he says. “The decor will state our philosophy right off the bat. Old school. Red checkered tablecloths, black and white tile floors, a tin ceiling and a formal dining room. I’m putting it on the walls with photos of my family; my big, loud, boisterous Italian family.”
While the setting articulates the traditional, the food expresses the soul of classic Italian cooking in creative translations. His flavorful dishes are grounded in memory, but executed with artistry and innovation.
Like Rabbit (below), a dish that pairs rabbit loin, leg, and belly with gnocchi tender and light, fresh mint, microgreens, and peas, some demurely round, others pureed. The rabbit exceeded all expectations and the gnocchi wowed.
“Our gnocchi – in my family we called it ‘gnuk’ – is simply water, russet potatoes, salt, and tipo 00 flour. No nutmeg. No Parmesan.
“When my great-grandfather Carmine Randolfi (older man at right) immigrated to America with his family from Atina in southern Italy they spoke no English. Immigration officials listed their name as Randolph and shipped them off to Grand Rapids, Michigan. They were so poor there was no money for nutmeg and cheese in the gnocchi. That’s how we make it at Randolfi’s.”
In Randolfi’s kitchen, primo ingredients rule. Everything is local, seasonal, and house-made, including the pastas, except the for canned San Marzano tomatoes used in the sauce Randolph’s aunts called "gravy." Baker Ted Wilson of Loafers supplies the breads. Andy Ayers supplies the beef, veal, and pork from local farms. Menus will change as the seasons progress.
Randolfi’s will have a growing wall in the restaurant for herbs and microgreens. The well-stocked kitchen and pantry lacks for nothing, but in Mike Randolph’s world nothing is wasted.
“My grandfather, Henrico Frederico (right, in uniform), was a hard-nosed man with a kind and compassionate heart,” Randolph says. “If you went out to dinner with him, he left nothing on the plate. He grew up so poor it was hard for him to bear.”
Randolph decries waste as well. “I use all the parts of the animal in our kitchen. Sure, chickens have breasts, but they also have legs and livers. When you use everything, you champion that animal.”
One appetizer, the Bruschetta, stands up for the rabbit with a liver mousse, charred broccoli, and pickled raisins on toasted baguette slices from Loafer’s. The house salad (right) features ripe tomatoes and nubbins of goat cheese with sweet peach slices. In an unexpected pairing, Randolph introduces the lesser-known kohlrabi, sliced thin almost to transparency, and juices it with a hint of lemon.
As he does with each new venture, Randolph and his crew vet every item on the menu at focused preview dinners. Rabbit appears to be a clear winner, but early favorites include a whole roasted sardine (below) with sourdough croutons, orange sections, herbs, and piquant Castelvetrano olives, startlingly green.
Notable winners with diners included Monkfish served with white beans and gremolata. A house made fregula pasta (similar to couscous), roasted in the wood-fired oven and combined with sweet corn, garlic, and herbs formed the perfect base for Hanger Florentine.
The night we dined few guests ordered the meatball with tomato gravy and spaghetti alla chitarra, but those who did raved about the flavor of sauce, hearty pasta, and the meat. When Randolfi’s opens in mid-August, each element will have passed his tests.
For Randolph, the process brought back strong images of the Randolfis, who eventually moved south from Grand Rapids to Cincinnati, where Mike Randolph grew up. “My Aunt Netti – my grandfather’s sister – lived in a house that was maybe 800 square feet and it had a billboard attached to it on one side. 'Let me tell you how much money they pay me to have that,’ she would say.
“Aunt Netti had an amazing garden with fresh rosemary and herbs, vegetables and flowers. The food she served is my soul food.
“My dad’s sister, Aunt Emmy, is a great cook and caterer who gathered the family at her house for big celebrations," he says. "One day, when I came into her house carrying a Rally’s bag [fast food], she threw me in the pool."
“What we make here isn’t indicative of her food, but the heart of what we make is the same. I want this to be the place for families, for dinner, a place to create memories.”
For Mike Randolph’s wife Elizabeth (right, with husband Mike), opening Randolfi’s unloosed a tide of memories as well. “When Mike and I started dating in 2000, his dad’s mind was really sharp; before he was diagnosed with aphasia, which is a form of dementia,” Elizabeth Randolph says.
“After Mike graduated from high school and went to college, his dad moved to Washington to open a high-powered litigation firm. He and Mike’s mom commuted on weekends to see each other.
"We lived with him one summer in Washington [D.C.] when we each had internships there. When we had dinner with his dad, he held court. He was affable and outgoing and always had stories to tell. His dad’s character is what you see in Mike. We spent fifteen years with his dad. He was only sixty-six when he died.”
The photos Randolph chose for the restaurant show the strength of family and honor the enduring legacy of his Italian ancestors.
Grandpa Henry Randolph with his brother and sisters: Back row, Hilda and Henry; middle row: Louisa, Carmella and Laura; front row, Dominic, Annette (Netti), Mary, and Rose
“I knew Mike’s grandfather, Henry, for six years,” Elizabeth Randolph says. “We had lots of opportunities to have dinners with him and to go to Xavier University basketball games. He loved the Musketeers. He was a small guy, but strong and scrappy. The kind of guy who was able to build a successful plumbing business in Cincinnati one job at a time.”
Mike Randolph agreed. Grandpa Henry was one tough guy. “When he’d take me to job sites, he’d park his truck a half-mile, maybe a mile away and we’d walk or run into the job site. If he’d see someone digging a ditch, and he didn’t like the results, he’d pull off his shirt, jump in and show the guy how to do it. When they built Cincinnati Riverfront Stadium, my grandfather’s company got the plumbing contract. His company banner, H. F. Randolph, hung on the job site.”
As we spoke, Randolph seemed fully focused on our conversation. I was surprised when he turned to a workman just outside our field of vision and said, “That’s not how I saw that working.” He walked over, consulted with the man and returned to finish the interview.
I saw a reflection of the businessman his grandfather must have been, mindful always of what was happening on his job site, ready to jump into the ditch whenever necessary.
The following Tuesday, I sat down to dinner at Half & Half where red checked tablecloths ruled and families tasted the foods, the salads, the fragrant sauces and pastas alongside a Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin soundtrack. Even though the family photos aren’t yet on the walls, the spirit of his grandfather Henry, his father Jerome, the aunts, uncles and cousins who gathered at Aunt Emmy’s house seemed very present at the preview.