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by brock radke | January 22, 2014 | Food & Drink
They’re all smiles now, but it wasn’t always so. Today Mimmo (LEFT) heads the kitchen, while Gino curates the acclaimed wine list.
Think about all the things you want from a classic Italian restaurant. Maybe there are red and white tablecloths with a bottle of Chianti on each table, or maybe it’s a little more modern—sleek and sophisticated but with a welcoming warmth. Perhaps you dream of rich red sauce drenching pasta or veal parmigiana, or maybe you crave dishes with lighter, more contemporary notes. It must be tricky for restaurants to balance old expectations with new, tradition with creativity.
At Ferraro’s, it comes naturally. Hospitality and deeply satisfying cooking are simply in the family blood. Gino Ferraro, a native of Calabria, in southern Italy, opened the restaurant in 1985, but two years prior he was operating a wholesale Italian food company, which he spun into a small deli and pizza shop with just four tables. “We had products from all over the world,” he says. “But it was a little ahead of its time. The idea was always to do a restaurant and make it successful with the help of the family.”
Osso buco served with farro.
Gino’s son Mimmo was just 7 years old when Ferraro’s opened on Las Vegas’s West Side, and although Mimmo wouldn’t choose to make the kitchen his career until attending culinary school in San Francisco 13 years later, he was already building a foundation. “I started very young in all aspects, from the front door to busing tables to running food to working the hot line,” he says. “Cooking was easy. It came so natural. It’s hard to learn what really goes with what, what spices go with that sauce or this fish, but it was something I just understood. I had a big head start before I went to culinary school.”
Located for years at West Flamingo Road and Jones Boulevard—an inconvenient cab ride away from the Strip—Ferraro’s was one of the rare restaurants to be considered a true locals’ favorite while also succeeding in drawing hungry tourists away from Las Vegas Boulevard.
In addition to its homey main dining room, Ferraro’s offers a full bar, a large patio, and live music five nights a week.
In 2003, after completing his culinary education—which included several long trips to Italy—Mimmo took the reins in the kitchen of Ferraro’s, allowing his father to focus on tending to customers and building one of the most respected Italian-wine cellars in the country. Balancing chef Mimmo’s enthusiastic energy with Gino’s time-tested ways was sometimes challenging. “We did butt heads, many times,” says Gino. “I’m a very traditional person and he’s a new generation. But in the end we came up with a solution to do the best thing for the restaurant, which is a little bit of old and a little bit of new.”
The result of this new equation is an emphasis on maintaining Gino’s high standards for service and cuisine while also incorporating some new dishes—including the brightly flavored Carpaccio Torcello, thin slices of raw beef rolled around a shaved Parmesan, arugula, and truffle oil salad, and Pappardelle Mimmo, wide pasta with fresh scallops, lobster, and asparagus in a butter/sage/truffle sauce. “People come here for consistency,” says Mimmo. “They know they can order anything on the menu and it’s going to be as good as what they had the last time. Today we’re just as known for homemade pasta and bread, rabbit, and tripe as we are for the osso buco.” Another new twist is the Chef Mimmo Experience, in which diners place their decisions in the chef’s hands and he customizes a special menu for the table. “They leave very happy,” he says.
In 2010, the Ferraro’s experience was further elevated when the restaurant moved from West Flamingo to Paradise Road, just east of the Strip. The new space is much larger—more room for live music, a bar and patio always packed for happy hour, and Gino’s exquisite wine collection—and accommodates many more Vegas visitors.
But some things will never change: Once you’re a regular, you’re always a regular. And Mimmo is particularly proud that Ferraro’s is likely the only restaurant in town where the namesake is “both at the front door and in the kitchen, every night.”
That consistency translates into lots of visits from countless noteworthy city residents and guests. “We’ve had thousands of celebrities visit, and so many prominent locals,” says Gino. “Julia Roberts has come many times and says ours is the best gnocchi Bolognese she’s had in her life. Brad Pitt, Andy Garcia, all the performers who have been in Las Vegas for years, like Gordie Brown, Clint Holmes, Frank Marino, on and on.” Gino’s favorite? Probably Anthony Quinn, he says. “He had an aura about him that no one else could possess.”
“We don’t relax,” Gino adds. “We’re hands-on, and that’s important, that the people who originated this concept are the people who are staying on top of it. The food will never change from what it is. No one can come and change that. We don’t change and we don’t Americanize the food, and if people don’t like it, we don’t get insulted, because we understand that their palate is not up to our standard of food.” 4480 Paradise Road, 702-364-5300
photography by Beverly Poppe