There was Italian food publicly served on a special occasion, or occasions, before then. On July 20, 1924 both the Houston Post and Chronicle reported a society vignette that a certain Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Godwin gave a small dinner party “at the new Italian restaurant in Hermann park.” This was at the café that was opened to patrons of the golf course at the park by John Pappa and Vincent Vallone – Tony Vallone’s grandfather – the month before. This café seemed to also be used for private events, but was not really an Italian restaurant.
The honor of the first Italian restaurant in Houston appears to go to Mme. Cerracchio’s that opened in December 1926 in a “stately colonial mansion” at 2414 Main Street at half-block north of McGowen, in today’s Midtown. This also housed the studio of Mrs. Cerracchio’s husband, the sculptor Enrico Cerracchio, who created one of the city’s most iconic civic artworks, the bronze equestrian statue of Sam Houston in Hermann Park. The restaurant advertised table d’hote service from 6:00 to 9:00 PM and a la carte afterwards in “an atmosphere of refinement and culture.” She is quoted as saying a few months after opening that “I have always had the urge to show the Americans how the people in Naples, Enrico’s native city, serve their foods – and at last I’ve found the chance.” It offers “raviolis, meat balls, and fine Italian spaghetti.” Mme. Cerracchio’s was a more appealing-sounding for an Italian (and French) restaurant than that of her maiden surname.
She was born Marion Kowalski in Shamokin, a coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania that, incidentally, was the also the birthplace of fellow Polish-Americans, Stan Coveleski, a Baseball Hall of Famer, and his brother Harry, who, too, pitched successfully in the major leagues, with a lifetime record of 81-55 and was a three-time twenty-game winner.
Coincident with her husband’s work as a sculptor, the restaurant becomes a “rendezvous for the artistic, bohemian element” as many Italian restaurants were famously known to be in New York, Chicago and San Francisco and elsewhere. Mme. Cerracchio’s adapts a slogan of “Where Houston’s ‘Who’s Who’ meets and entertains the Nation’s ‘Who’s Who’”. Nonetheless, it becomes Nino’s in August 1927, just eight months or so after opening, with a new proprietor. This is the first of three Italian-themed restaurants named Nino’s in Houston over the decades, none of them related.
If interested in reading more about the sometimes amusing and surprising history of local Italian restaurants like this, you might want to scroll through some of “A passeggiata through Houston’s Italian restaurant history.”
An advertisement from the Houston Post, March 2, 1927. The address is incorrect.