Angela Milano grew up in a home that room-by-room became an iconic restaurant that brought Italian food – and pizzas – to the Rio Grande Valley.
Still going strong on West Pike Boulevard in Weslaco amidst farm scenery that evokes memories of a Valley of yesteryear, under a third generation of family leadership Milano’s endures, a Valley dining favorite that features family, great food and longstanding personal connections to their customers.
Angela Milano is the granddaughter of the founders of the enterprise – Emidio and Lisetta Milano – who came to the Valley from Chicago in the 1940s. Milano’s origins began with selling pizzas to area grocery stores. Then came an era when customers drove to the Pike Boulevard location to pick up hot and freshly made pizzas. When Angela’s father, Lino, married her mother, Giovanna, the business was poised to move into full restaurant mode – and that it did.
Lino was focused on the business side and Giovanna was the force in the kitchen. Gradually, the Milano home grew into a full-fledged restaurant with its family legacy featured on its walls with stories of the forefathers and mothers who today Angela honors in keeping the business moving forward.
“It’s definitely a blessing and an honor to follow in their footsteps,” she said on a recent late Friday afternoon as her kitchen began to stir to life in anticipation of evening diners. “The biggest aspiration I have is to be able to do as well as they did. They put so much work into it.”
Milano looks over to her head chef of 22 years, Albert Garcia, who is working over garlic bulbs and looking over hot pots of marinara sauce. Big silver spoons and strainers hang adjacent to him in a sprawling kitchen that includes pots and pans that are several decades old, and Garcia says provide the best built-in Milano’s flavor to timeless dishes.
Somewhere in the kitchen area is what Garcia calls the “holy grail” of recipe books, the Milano way of old style and authentic Italian food. “I know the whole book,” Garcia said. “It has never left this restaurant.”
He learned the Milano way from Giovanna, who he described as “a very strict Italian lady.” He described the matriarch of Milano’s as a perfectionist who was known for tapping her cooks on the head when she saw them veering from her way of cooking. Garcia mentions some of the restaurant’s signature dishes, including pollo piccata, the homemade raviolis, eggplant casserole, and the lasagnas of all types, with the seafood varieties the ones he mentioned most.
“We keep it in the same tradition as how she (Giovanna) taught us,” Garcia said.
Giovanna died a little over a year ago, and her great loss is still fresh to her daughter and staff. Angioletta Pavan, Giovanna’s younger sister, was visiting from Florida and watching the kitchen prepare to feed customers as she sat with her niece. She recalled in her youth how her family survived World War II and the German occupation of their country. The young sisters and their family fled to the mountains of northern Italy with little water or food, but survived and would eventually immigrate to the United States.
“I’m very proud of what my sister did here and what Angela and everyone here is doing to keep her work alive,” Angioletta said.
Her niece smiled and reaffirmed the family traditions and how it connects to Milano’s. “You can feel the family setting,” Angela said. “You feel at home when you are at Milano’s.”