Taste of Italy

Phillip Brents

Thu August 28, 2014 10:08am

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto is all about family. In fact, the DePhilippis family can be enumerated on the large framed family tree in the lobby of the new Eastlake restaurant.
It includes six generations, starting with restaurant founders Vincent DePhiliipis and Madeleine Manfredi, both European immigrants who landed on Ellis Island in 1922. The tree branches out to include     ensuing generations down to the couple’s great-grandchildren. The expansive tree also includes Vincent and Madeleine’s    parents.
The DePhilippis family can trace its roots to Naples, Italy. The Manfredis lived in Nime, France. Naples is also the birthplace of     pizza, which, coincidently, is the foundation of the restaurant.
“The restaurant is a family tradition and a source of great pride and opportunities for future family members, if they elect to     follow in the tradition,” explained Sergio DePhilippis, a great-grandson who serves as the general manager of the new Eastlake restaurant.
“It’s a tradition not only in our family but many families. Filippis has been a tradition for many generations among our valued  clientele. We are a family restaurant; we want families to come in here. We’re going to do a lot within the community.”
Overall, there are 15 Filippi’s restaurants, including 12 in San Diego County. They are owned and operated by family members of the original founders. The hallmark of each restaurant is family, good food and value.
“We’re not the cheapest Italian restaurant and we’re not the fanciest but we feel our portions are larger, and we use quality cheeses in our food,” Sergio DePhilippis said. “Everything we make is pretty darn good. We’ll put our foundation (dishes) up against anybody.”
That’s amore
The Filippi’s brand is well known. Vincent and Madeleine opened the first store in 1950 on India Street in San Diego’s Little   Italy district. The couple originally operated a small deli and grocery store. But, as Sergio relates, “once they put in a pizza oven, the rest is history.”
Sergio DePhilippis, who is assisted at the Eastlake restaurant by his sister Dominique, learned firsthand how popular the Filippi’s brand is. They had hoped for a quiet opening to fine-tune operations prior to the grand opening. Instead, customers besieged the new restaurant.
“That was both good and bad,” Sergio DePhilippis chuckled in retrospect. “We wanted to open quietly and critique ourselves but somehow word of mouth got out and we were overwhelmed with customers. We did our best to accommodate everyone and we have since fine-tuned things.”
The Eastlake restaurant is spacious but still has all the individual touches that customers associate with Filippi’s, such as the hanging wine bottles, checkered red and white tablecloths and lots of red in the interior décor.
“Compared to other Filippi’s restaurants, we are more modernized but we still have the classic components that anyone familiar with Filippi’s will easily recognize,” DePhilippis said. “We don’t have that      corporate feel. We’re not a restaurant chain.”
Guests feel welcome when they first enter the restaurant. A large artistic-rendered mural of Naples includes overlapping views from the business district down to the     waterfront. From a distance, it appears that you are actually looking downhill.
There are personal touches with the names of family members painted on business fronts.
While pizza is the restaurant’s foundation, that’s not all there is to Filippi’s. The pasta, framed by its legendary lasagna, is fantastic and the restaurant’s prime rib is quickly   becoming the talk of the town.
The prime rib is in homage to Sergio DePhilippis’ late grandfather, the colorful and gregarious Roberto DePhilippis, who was the owner of Roberto DePhilippis’ Butcher Shop Steak Houses in Mission   Valley and Chula Vista.
“His chef who was his chef for 20-something years gave me some of the techniques he was using there,” Sergio DePhilippis said.
The prime rib dinner comes with garlic bread, soup or salad, mixed vegetables, baked potato, steak fries or rigatoni. The regular cut is $22.95; the larger Filippi’s cut is $29.45.
The certified Angus beef is flavorful, incredibly tender and naturally juicy (without going to extremes). Its certified Angus beef brand places it above other cuts such as USDA prime, choice and select.
The secret is in the way it is cooked,         according to Sergio DePhilippis. “It’s top quality, aged … we let the meat be the star,” he said.
The baby back rib dinner ($21.45 for full rack) features the same dinner sides.
The Eastlake restaurant is promoting its Italian Feast for Two for $20.95 that          includes two plates of spaghetti/lasagna, two salads, a 10-inch cheese pizza and Italian bread.
The portions at Filippi’s are so large that the Italian Feast for Two can actually feed up to four people. The special is available all day Monday through Thursday, dine-in only.
Pasta and pizza delight
Medium-size pizzas (starting at $13.50) are 13 inches in diameter while large-size      pizzas (starting at $17) measure 17 inches. Ten-inch pizzas available on the lunch menu range from $8 (cheese) to $12.75 (meat delight).
There is a large selection of toppings,       including the popular pepperoni ($14.60 medium, $18.35 large).
Calzones are an option for those who like the pizza baked inside the crust.
We had the chance to sit down and sample several popular items. We found both the quality of ingredients and the quality of service excellent.
Our favorite dish was the chicken parmigiana — a luscious creation that caught our taste buds quite by surprise. The chicken is particularly soft and cuts easily with a fork. Theside of spaghetti is heavenly. It might seem a very simple pasta dish but the tangy meat sauce elevates it to an art form.
Sergio DePhilippis admitted the chicken parmigiana was his favorite dish while growing up. The same meat sauce is also used in the restaurant’s signature lasagna.
The chicken parmigiana dinner portion is $15.45 ($12.45 a la carte). Dinner portions come with soup or salad and garlic bread.
The shrimp Filippi’s ($15.45 a la carte, $17.95 dinner) is reserved for seafood lovers. The dish features soft-to-the-bite shrimp cooked in a butter and wine sauce mixed with pasta. The flavors blend together and do not overpower one another.
The fettuccine alfredo ($12.45 a la carte, $15.45 dinner) is another exciting dish to savor. It derives its abundant flavor from a mix of pecorino and romano cheeses in the sauce.
The antipasto salads are large and go perfect with a sub for lunch. Luncheon specials are from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The restaurant offers gluten free menu options, including a 14-inch thin crust pizza with up to four toppings (starting at $17.25), pasta bowl with marinara sauce ($13.95) and chocolate cake ($7.25).
Popular desserts include the three-layer chocolate cake, chocolate mousse and cannoli. The cakes are moist. The chocolate mousse is perfect — it almost has the consistency of an ice cream cake.
The restaurant also includes separate bar/lounge area. Customers may order cocktails, domestic draft beer, premium draft beer, premium rotating craft and beer by the bottle. House wines include the Filippi’s label, as well as red and white dinner wines and champagne.
Business hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.