When the Moon Hit Our Eyes

By Jimmy Banakis

April 3, 2024

Our story begins in the town of Marigliano in the Campania region of Italy. The capital city of this region is Naples, the birthplace of intensely rich tomatoes grown in volcanic soil, pizza, and wonderful crusty bread. Baking was the principal occupation of members of the Granato family.

In about 1912 young Tom Granato and his future brother-in-law Raphael (Ralph) Amodeo immigrated to Chicago and settled in the Taylor St. neighborhood. Coincidently on his trip to America was a friend, another boy from Marigliano whose life in Chicago was to take a different path. That boy changed his name at Ellis Island to Paul Ricca.

In 1914 Jenny, a girl Tom knew from home arrived and they married. The same year Ralph married Tom’s sister Rose. The culinary history of America is a patchwork quilt of immigrant contributions to our culture. This tale is about one family’s gift to Chicago.

In the beginning of the 20th century Taylor St. and the area now encompassing University of Illinois campus had three distinct ethnic groups, Italians, Jews, and Greeks. Each group had its own place of worship, business district, undertakers, and small grocers.

All the businesses in each neighborhood catered to their own specific group. Italian bakeries baked bread, large tomato topped focaccia, and biscotti. Customers also brought pots of food to be cooked in their large ovens, as many did not have ovens in their apartments. Some bakeries also made food items, one or two daily, to carry-out.

They were essential to the community and operated much as they had in the Naples region. In this neighborhood of immigrants one hundred years ago, Tom Granato did something at great personal financial risk, that changed Chicago in a profound way forever. He gave Chicago PIZZA. Granato’s Restaurant opened on Taylor Street in 1924.

This was the first commercial Italian restaurant serving pizza in the city. I researched it myself at the Chicago Historical Society. Granato’s pizza was “thin crust,” the truly unique Chicago product. This was the type of pizza most of us grew up with, “tavern style.” The restaurant at first catered exclusively to those in the neighborhood.

Granato’s was still popular when it was demolished by Mayor Richard J. Daley in the late 1950’s to make way for the University.

Daley created deep resentment that exists to this day from those that loved those neighborhoods and thought those historic places should have been allowed to evolve instead of displacing thousands of businesses and homes.

Though I’ve made every type of pizza, I’ve always felt that Tom Granato’s creation is the true Chicago style pizza.

Tavern style exploded in popularity in the 1950’s after G.I.’s returned from the war. Many of them sampling pizza for the first time while stationed in Naples.

Deep-dish, invented in the 1940’s and a product I sold when I ran Gino’s East in the 1980’s & 90’s was limited to a few restaurants in River North until the 1980’s. The rest of the country now believes that it’s the only pizza we eat, yet it has never exceeded 10 percent of the Chicago market.

Twenty some years ago I met my charming friend Chicago attorney John Sciaccotta. John is the direct descendent of this historical restaurant family. The first impression I had of him was the passion he had for the family business. Tom Granato was his great-uncle. His maternal great-grandmother Rose Granato Amodeo was Tom Granato’s sister, and his paternal great-grandfather was Ralph Amodeo.

Papa Ralph was the legendary “Papa Milano” who began the Milano restaurants in 1929 at the corner of Clark and Diversey taking pizza off of Taylor St. and to the public.

1929, was the year of the St. Valentines Massacre which incidentally took place a few blocks away from the restaurant. Keep in mind that from 1920 to 1933, restaurants could not legally sell alcohol because of prohibition. Whether or not any was served at Milano’s has been lost to history.

I know my great uncles and grandfather always chuckled when I would ask about the alcohol ban. Rose and her sisters operated the Granata’s family bakery on Taylor St. before Ralph opened the first Milano’s.

When I asked John why the bakery was Granata’s instead of Granato’s he said that the sign painter spelled the name wrong, and the sisters thought it would be bad luck to change it. Soon Rose joined her husband and became the quintessential Italian Mama to her customers.

Rose and Ralph, their children, and grandchildren have owned and operated multiple Italian restaurants in our metropolitan area through the years.

The two that most of us may remember were Milano’s at State and Division (1953-1978), and my favorite, Papa Milano’s at State and Oak St. (1951-2007). These restaurants were initially operated by John’s great-grandfather Ralph, his maternal grandfather Carmie Amodeo, and his maternal grandmother Angie.

Later operated by his mother Rose Marie and his brother Carmie. I also remember John’s Great-Aunt Mary (Amodeo) and Uncle Jimmy Santeramo’s sausage shop in Oak Park.

Mary was an innovator who also sold frozen entrees long before that became popular. There was also an Uncle Junior (Ralph) in the family long before the “Soprano’s.” Uncle Junior was the most prolific restaurant operator in the family, opening Milano’s locally and nationally.

What was it about this family that set it apart from other entrepreneurs through the years? They cherished their customers. This is the quality all great merchants have. They instinctively knew that customers have a choice, and the blessing occurs when they walk into your establishment instead of another.

An astute business owner can never take this for granted. Rose, Ralph, and their children made everyone feel like family. They made you feel like you were in a comfortable familiar home. Hell, even today, I still feel as if I’m somehow related to this family. That’s how powerful this gift of theirs was.

Barney Kessel owner of Barney’s Market Club (1920-1990) also had this ability. Standing at the door he’d greet each customer saying, “Yes Sir Senator!” and then seat you imparting a personalized humorous quip. You cannot fake this quality. It must be heartfelt.

Think back. Chances are your favorite restaurants over the years made you feel as if you belonged. Made you happy. Sometimes an owner like my grandfather instinctively used negative reinforcement, “Get the Hell out of here!” followed by a hug and, “where have you been?” That was where I first learned that lesson. Not because someone taught me, but because someone modeled it for me.

I doubt Papa Milano’s had more than 70 seats. Some were so close together you comfortably engaged in friendly talk with other diners. It was a favorite spot for my wife and I when we were dating back in the 70’s. She brought me there. We loved the incomparable pizza and the pillowy soft gnocchi. It was also the go to spot for countless celebrities, Bob Hope, Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Sid Ceaser, Jay Leno. Oprah Winfrey lived across the street when she moved here and ate there almost nightly. She continued to do this even after her successful career blossomed.

It was fodder for Irv Kupcinet’s celebrity column in the Sun-Times…. “George Raft and Rocky Marciano at Milano’s Saturday night….” I felt fortunate when John suggested I spend a week hanging out there in 2004.

At that time John’s mother Rose Marie was running the restaurant with her easy charm. Working in the back of the house, the pizza tasted historic to me. The crust was thin and crispy, yet light and buttery. The gnocchi were made daily, and I found a new favorite, the eggplant parmesan.

There was a concern at the time that the building was to be redeveloped into a high-rise. We discussed how the restaurant might be saved and relocated. John and I considered options, but none met our criteria, and at midnight on May 31, 2007, Papa Milano’s legendary run ended.

At this point, I hope you can get a sense of how one family that originated on Taylor Street in 1914 enriched and nourished all our lives. Just last week, as we discussed the pizza centennial, John was still wondering how we could resurrect Papa Milano’s.

The good attorney that he is, he owns all the recipes, trademarks, and signage. Who knows? The passion still simmers, and the DNA still exists.

Today, there are at least 8 distinct pizza styles enjoyed by Chicagoans. We all have our subjective favorites to be sure, but one thing we can all do during this centennial year. We can raise our glasses to the remarkable family who first gave Chicago it’s favorite food item. “Salute, beviamo alla nostra!”


Jimmy Banakis is a life-long restaurateur.  He was an honorary batboy for the White Sox in 1964. He attended Oak Park River Forest High School, Nebraska Wesleyan University, and Chicago-Kent Law School.  He claims the kitchen is the room he’s most comfortable in anywhere in the world. He published an extremely limited-edition family cookbook. He’s a father and grandfather, and lives in Downers Grove Il.

Comments 36

  1. Jimmy is NOT a restauranteur. He IS a restaurateur, (a person who owns or manages a restaurant). There is no ‘n’ in restaurateur.
    I’ll bet 99 out of 100 people who own or manage restaurants get this wrong.

    1. I’m grateful to be old enough to remember a lot of these restaurants and been to a few over the years. Great traditions, wonderful memories, and the BEST food.

  2. Oh, what a lovely trip you’ve taken us this morning! Thanks for the history and the timelines and the flavors and smells. Tell me, where was Uncle Jimmy’s sausage in Oak Park? We share OPRF (‘68) and I have a hunch Scafuri Bakery has a cameo in any expanded history of Taylor Street. Sending this off to my brothers immediately!

  3. Let’s not forget Papa Milano’s on Western Avenue just north of Devon. A favorite spot for Gary Kohonen, Kass’s high school football coach, and other Amindsen High School kids.

    1. So if your illegal you can’t by your definition enrich our nation. I know many that have businesses that enrich the neighborhoods of Chicago. They do work that so called ‘legals’ won’t touch like restaurant work, dangerous tree cutting, roofing, chimney cleaning, masonry, cement work, street paving, home and commercial, meatpacking, ie slaughtering animals, etc. Gimme a break.

      1. ….and if that is the criteria you use, that’s backwards! Are you saying that if they come in legally they can’t do those jobs? That makes no sense. If they are illegal, they are most often confined to those tough, dangerous jobs. However, same guy – same eagerness or willingness to work, but legal? He can progress beyond those tough assignments. Don’t think you’re doing any of them a favor by somehow making it seem that America is better because illegals are willing to do the work. That’s just all backwards and makes no sense at all.

      2. So I’m curious.

        What part of ILLEGIAL don’t you understand ?

        What you say is in fact true, however, those you refer to have no business being here in the first place to do those types of job. You and I both know, if they’re not here then there will be others who will ultimately do them. Whether they work hard or not isn’t the issue…it’s that they shouldn’t be herein the first place !

      3. Stupid old liberal trope. Much of that work that “so called ‘legals’ won’t touch ” used to be high paying union work that was undercut by the influx of illegals.

        1. Lee, Ken, Karen
          The illegials are employed here because corrupt corporate business want them here. They come cheap: low wages, no insurance, other perks. You want to stop them from coming here and being employed? Jail the owners of businesses that use them. No excuse, 1st offense in jail for a long time.
          Those illegals also work at private day care in homes and small nurseries wiping your kid soiled asses. Also wipe your own or parents asses in nursing homes. They work at jobs what most of us won’t do.
          The illegal pay taxes also. You guys just don’t like brown and black folk. Too bad because they will be a majority very soon while you continue screaming the sky is falling. You’d be better off taking a Spanish class or 2.

          1. You started out ok and I agreed with you for a paragraph. You didn’t know when to quit and the cherry on the sundae of your idiocy was your statement regarding “Black folk”. Wow, you don’t have a clue, don’t know what I like or dislike and I wonder how you conclude that being Black made you illegal and therefore disliked. No wonder the country is screwed up with thinking like that 🤦‍♂️

          2. So Thomas Rudd is in favor of illegal immigration and of them paying taxes, but opposed to employers hiring them and thinks they should be imprisoned? What kind of screwed up thinking is this?

          3. Stop with your inane gasbaggery Thomas. I agree with Ken Mack when he says “You started out OK …” But then you do your usual “I’m Thomas Rudd, the world’s foremost authority. My shit don’t smell. I’m better than all you deplorables.” Stop with your sanctimonious windbaggery. The fact remains that the folks in question are “illegal aliens.” That is undeniable. So stop being an asshole.

  4. Looks like I’m going out for pizza tonight.
    Thanks for the article Jimmy. I am on the road daily through out the city, I always try and find the small, family owned spot for lunch. Some of my old favorite spots were little corner Italian stores that had a small counter in the back where fresh sandwiches, meatballs, sausages, and occasionally pizza were made. Russo’s at 32nd and Wells, Fontanos at Polk and Carpenter, Genes on Harlem, Minelli’s in Niles, etc… As for pizza, Salernos on Grand, Pats, on Lincoln, the original Aurelio’s in Homewood are just a few of my favorite haunts.

  5. Add Tony’s Deli in Edison Park. Another family operation. Tonys mom or sister at the register. A few tables on one side of the grocery deli.
    Legal immigrants made this country what it is. They assimilated. They did not try and transplant their beliefs or the politics they left to get here. My mom came over “onna da boat” over a century ago. 7 sisters and a big brother with their mom and dad. A lifelong Cubs fan she did not see the WS W but I
    made sure to decorate her grave when it happened. She was a good cook, not as good as my gramma but good. Thin crust pizza. Yes to that in all its variations. Extra thin well done for me.

  6. I want pizza now. Thanks for your words.
    I am a second generation immigrant. I loved the stories my grandparents told.
    The stories always included the words “in the old country.” How I wish I had written down some of those stories.
    I am and will always be in awe hearing those stories of how they came from the old country and how they forged their way here in America. Those that came and built businesses and built a life here had a pride and love for this country. Where did that go?
    Thanks for reminding me how I grew up with love and respect for our country.

  7. When going into family owned businesses like this, it used to be like visiting family. There was genuine warmth and appreciation. You were more than a customer, you became part of the family. This was for any kind of business. Hardware store come to mind, for example, or the small grocery store in the middle of the block. What became the large chains took that away, even though many are franchises and I guess technically small business. It’s just not the same. Everything has become dollar driven and service and appreciation is for the most part is a pipe dream. Sure, there are still a few around. But you know, the people of the world today are intent on destroying it, like everything else.

    Please don’t try to resurrect Papa Milano’s. It’s a totally different time. It wouldn’t be the same and it would put a damper on the name and the memories of what it was. Use a different name. Try the concept if you want, the recipes, ambiance, the quality. But let Papa Milano remain a quality memory. Going back never seems as good as it was.

  8. Great column, Jimmy! Two things:

    1) if I recall correctly, when Mayor Richard J. Daley had Granato’s torn down to give way to “Circle Campus,” that gave rise to the beloved and legendary Florence Scala and her protestations!
    2) as someone who was born James J. Stramaglio but have gone by James J. Stramaglia my whole adult life, I truly appreciate the Granato/Granata passage in this beautifully written column.

  9. Went over the wall and escaped Chicago nearly five years ago and made a run to the free state of Texas. When I visit Chicago I try to get to Baris on Grand for a good Italian sandwich. Tufanos for their lemon chicken with potatoes. My wife loves the pasta at Salernos on West Grand. I have heard Rosebud is no longer on Taylor street, I miss their brick oven chicken. Of course Pequods and Malnati’s have outstanding deep dish pizza. All local treasures and should be treasured . Enjoy them in Chicago while you can and while they’re still here. Crime in Chicago is driving many of these restaurants to the suburbs. There is an Illinois chain named Rosatis out here in Texas that serves a close enough facsimile of Chicago style italian to get by on. They have a good Chicago style thin crust pizza. While it is difficult to find a really good Chicago style Italian beef sandwich here you can find plenty of good Texas brisket . A fair enough trade and unlike Chicago, you don’t have to risk your life to get it!

    1. Enrique,

      It sounds like you might be in Central Texas! My wife and I escaped here in the ’90s before it was “fashionable”. Prior to moving to Texas we lived in Woodridge, a short walk from the Rosati’s that is still at Woodridge Drive and Hobson. Imagine our delight when the Rosati’s in Cedar Park opened a couple of years ago. Now if only we can get a Portillo’s or a Buona (I hear they’re trying to expand), all will be well along with our brisket and Tex-Mex!

      1. Yes you’re correct Steve. We moved to a suburb of Houston and Rosatis was a godsend. They’re getting a little bit of competition though as Portillo’s is now building down the street. More and more people are escaping the horrible state of JaBba Pritzker and moving to our free state. Hopefully they leave the trash politics back there. Now if we could only get Rosebud to open up over here….

  10. This was an era when great eating spots in neighborhoods were run by true entrepreneurs. They valued quality and customers. Only Vitos and Nick’s is like that now. But they too will be forced out and move due to crime and changing tastes of their hood.
    Despite living in a Polish hood, Portage Park, we had great pizza places: Skyway on Lawrence, Rossellis on Higgins, the 2nd Suparossa b4 it went corporate and place on Milwaukee and Montrose who name I can’t remember. Rossellis was the best. It had the distinction of ‘winning’ the most shut down restaurant by city health dept. Made headlines every year. When you picked up the pizza in the take area you could see the mice! That didn’t stop the customers from coming in. Yummy!

  11. Very much enjoyed this column!

    Just a note to Thomas Rudd–the pizza place on Milwaukee and Montrose was Bellini’s. Very good Italian food–one of the best sauces on the NW side of Chicago!

    (Maybe someone can confirm this . . . regarding Gino’s, which is one of the best pan pizzas of our city . . . before Gino’s East, there was the original Gino’s on Rush Street in the 70s. It was a cavernous location originally with all the graffiti on the walls, etc. I always thought Gino’s East off Michigan Avenue was called that because of it being east of the Rush Street location.)

    And two historic locations of pan pizza: The very first pan pizza I had was at “La Piazza”, an Italian Restaurant in the original Piper’s Alley on Wells Street. And “My Pie”, a restaurant on Clark Street with hanging Tiffany lamps over the tables. They had another location across Loyola University on the north side.

  12. Great to know true Chicago style pizza is actually super thin crust! I love deep dish ever since my Dad first took me to Due’s. But one pie that comes to mind immediately is Pat’s Pizzeria (originally Pianetto’s I believe – since 1950). OMG, super thin crust – extra crispy, extra sauce. Gotta get back there now. I think Mr. Pianetto’s first wife was Leona who after they divorced got her revenge by opening a successful small chain of excellent restaurants. But Pat’s pizza stayed truer I believe and is much better

    1. Went to Pat’s last night. The pie has not changed in 30 years – is was incredible and so was the service and the Chianti. Pretty toney neighborhood tho. Thankyou for this wonderful article

  13. Back in the 60s when I was on the Dwarf’s (I wasn’t very good, but I got to sit on the bench and watch some great softball), we played around 100 games each summer and after almost every game we would go to a mom and Pop pizza place on Irving Park. Just west of Kedzie. A great individual size Pizza for two bucks and a Pepsi for $.25. I want to say the name was Leona‘s, but my memory is shaky. After a while, some of us started to keep track of how many times in a row we go there. I think the record was around 50 days in a row. And then one day two young girls came in and One of them ended up as my first wife. Ain’t life grand.

  14. I grew up by the Grand/Pulaski area in the 60’-70’s then bought our first house near Belmont/Harlem & then to Grayslake. I’ve had pizza from all over the city. Vito’s Pizza, Vito/Angelo, Mangia, Franks, Pequod’s, Geo’s, & Vito & Nicks. Too many to list. I’ve never had a bad pizza in the Chicago area. Each one is a little different. I even love Wells Brothers in Racine,Wi. A great family run pizzeria/bar for 100 years. I always lived on the NW side of the city & northern burbs. When in Grayslake I’d drive 1-1/2 hours to Vito & Nicks. We live in North Carolina and the closest Chicago pizza place is Rosati’s(thank God), over an hour away. Rosati’s, for being a chain has always had a good pizza. When I visit Chicago, I always order 2 par cooked pizza’s and put them in the cooler to bring back to N.C. Thank you for a wonderful article Mr Banakis. Politicians do not make Chicago, it is the people who live & work there. So many great businesses that remember you each time you enter does make you feel like family. They appreciate you & I appreciate them also. Mr Kass knows this. I hadn’t been to Joseph’s Finest Meats in a while after moving to Grayslake in 98’ but still went from time to time. Joes son Ben remembered us by name. You can’t fake that.

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