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Friday, September 17, 2010

Adolfo's restaurant, Victor Bruno's tribute to his late father, celebrates grand opening at Worthington Street location

From the larger-than-life portrait that greets diners in the foyer, to the Sinatra music piped over the sound system to the Abbott and Costello films playing on silent loops on flat-screen televisions mounted on the walls, it was all Bruno.

Victor C. Bruno’s newest restaurant, Adolfo’s, celebrated its grand opening Thursday night. The Italian eatery is named after Bruno’s father, a 2003 victim of the region’s highest-profile mob murder in recent history, or some may argue, ever.

But Victor Bruno said he wants to break away from his father’s gangster billing and his violent demise, and designed the eatery on Worthington Street to honor his father, whom he called his mentor and best friend.

“I can’t tell you what I’ve been through. My father had a lot of sayings. One was: Don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. But it’s been hard, really hard not to do that for the past two years,” Victor Bruno said during an interview the day before the restaurant’s splashy opening.

Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, state Rep. Benjamin Swan, Springfield Chamber of Commerce President Russell F. Denver and other elected officials turned out for a ribbon-cutting at the 254 Worthington St. site. It seemed a leap of faith in a number of ways: for Bruno to pay homage to his father and hope the future outweighs the history, and to revive a corner of the city that has been slowly dying since Bruno closed the former Caffeine’s at the same location years ago.

Victor Bruno, 39, opened Caffeine’s and Art e Pasta in virtually the same spot about a decade ago, sparking a limited Renaissance in a gritty area back then. His father, the-then regional head of the New York-based Genovese crime family, was a frequent presence in those nightspots, and the younger Bruno said his father helped school him in the food business.

“He taught me how to treat people. He told me not to skimp on fresh ingredients; not to skimp on good wine,” Bruno said. “Life is about good food, good wine, good times and family.”

The public certainly seemed to embrace the new restaurant and all the philosophies behind it, judging from the hundreds of people – from city officials to lawyers, businessmen and a host of others – who flocked there on Thursday evening.

“I see this as a catalyst for this area,” Sarno said. “The more restaurants I can get downtown, the better.”

Hordes of couples also came out for the buffet, wine list and appletinis.

“I love it here. I love the atmosphere,” said Yana Powers, 32, of Longmeadow.

Bruno said there were a few around him who advised not to name the restaurant after his father, and not to prominently display a giant photo of Adolfo “Big Al” Bruno, shot six times on the eve of his 58th birthday on Nov. 23, 2003.

“In the end, I did what I wanted. We never told each other that we loved each other. We didn’t talk like that; but my father was my best friend and I miss him every day,” he said.

The interior of Adolfo’s is both subtle and elegant. The food is classically Italian. The wine list is expansive. Bruno will offer valet parking each night, as a nod to suburbanites who may be fearful of spending the evening downtown.

Denver shrugged off the restaurant’s name and instead focused on the jobs the restaurant will generate.

“He’s going to offer 30 jobs here. I respect that he’s trying to honor his father, but as far as I’m concerned it was a vacant storefront that’s become vibrant again,” Denver said.

In addition to supporters and the curious, some of Al Bruno’s closest friends came to the grand opening on Thursday.

Joseph Signorelli, 75, said he spent about four decades jousting over who was the better cook and mastering Sunday dinners before Bruno was killed.

“Everything we did was about food deciding what we were going to eat, when we were going to buy it, how we were going to cook it. I told him I taught him everything he knew about cooking,” said Signorelli, dapper in a tie, sweater and jacket.

Seven men have been charged in Bruno’s murder, most notably, Anthony J. Arillotta, Bruno’s reputed successor, who turned government informant in March, according to those familiar with the case.

The third entree on Adolfo’s menu is entitled “Ratillotta.” Bruno said it is a classic Italian dish. 


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