Actor Chazz Palminteri (“The Usual Suspects,” “A Bronx Tale”) has partnered with Aldo’s owners Sergio and Alessandro Vitale to open a new restaurant in Harbor East called Chazz: A Bronx Original.
With its soft opening Friday, Palminteri’s restaurant is styled after the eateries on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and will feature classic Italian-American dishes. Palminteri sat down with b to discuss his restaurant, movies, the mafia and the proper way to eat a slice of pizza.
Chazz: What’s your name?
Is it Luca?
No, just Luke.
I thought it might have been Luca.
Sorry. It’s just Luke. What brings you and your new restaurant to Baltimore?
Three years ago, I met Sergio and Alessandro Vitale at Aldo’s. I loved the food. I said, “Why can’t more restaurants make food like this?” I have this OCD thing about food and about pizza, about how to make the right dough and what kind of texture and the mozzarella and the temperature of the water. We started talking and said, “We should do a restaurant together.” I said, “Gee the food I had in the Bronx — that incredible food that I grew up with — they don’t make that kind of food. Not that cheap cheese pizza. Real mozzarella.” We decided to spend a little more. Using a coal fire oven that we had made for us, coming in from Australia. It’s 900 degrees. The pizza cooks in 90 seconds, so it’s soft on the inside but just perfect on the outside. You can only get that with a coal fire oven. We said, “You know what, let’s do it” and we’re doing it. I also thought Baltimore was just this great town. I thought it was a wonderful little city.
Is the approach to making a great steak similar to making a great pizza?
Yeah, you gotta cook it fast. If it stays in too long, the dough dries out. You really gotta know what you’re doing. Sergio makes it better than anybody. He’s my co-owner and the master chef. The pH of the tomatoes has to be right. You have to mix the tomatoes so it’s not just one batch of tomatoes. It’s all these things that make the perfect pizza. Something that you eat and say, “Oh my God.” The way Serg does it, he puts the cheese first, then the sauce. Most places put the sauce and then the cheese. No. The worst thing is when you bite a piece of pizza and the cheese comes right off. This way the cheese stays on. When you make the dough it has to rise for three days. Other people they just put it out there and make the pizza. No. Our dough has to be put away for three days. So you have to stay ahead of it. Is it time consuming? Is it more work? Yes.
What are your signature dishes?
One of the signatures is going to be the pizza, obviously. But anything they make is gonna be great. We have a veal meatball with rigatoni. Forgettaboutit.
What’s the proper way to eat a slice of pizza? Should you fold it in half? Should you stack? Should you eat it with a knife and fork like Donald Trump?
There are people who like to use silverware. I fold it and eat it, that’s the Bronx way. You don’t want the pizza to be limp. But you also don’t want it to be too stiff or too hard.
Didn’t the Baldwin brothers play a role in your restaurant?
One day I was telling them about my restaurant. I said let’s go around and test the pizza. It was me and Billy and Stephen. We got together, we rented a limo. We went to Manhattan. I went down before them and I tried about 25 pizza places. I got it down to the five best ones. There we are. We’ve got all the pizzas in the limo. I said, “We’ve got too much time on our hands.”
How involved personally will you be in the restaurant?
I’ll be here a lot. I’m a full partner here. It’s not just using my name and walking away. I want this to be successful just like my movies are.
Is there any truth to the rumours there will be a “Usual Suspects 2”?
They’ve been talking about that for years. Until there’s a script, I don’t believe it. I always thought there should be, because it was such a great movie. Bryan Singer, the director, and Chris McQuarrie, who wrote an incredible script — it won the Academy Award — I think he’s saying, “Why make another one?” You can’t equal it. The best you could do is break out even, so why do it?
What else are you working on other than this restaurant?
I have a movie I just finished called “Mighty Fine” with Andie MacDowell. I’m also going to be appearing in Atlantic City in July 9 to 27 at Caesers. I’ll be doing my original one-man show, “A Bronx Tale.”
You were once a long-haired lead singer in a band called Razzamachazz. What was that like?
In the late ’60s and ’70s, I was a singer. I was acting then, too. But my singing career took off. Finally in 1979, I really devoted my craft to acting. I was a very good singer. I have a very eclectic taste. I love jazz. I love R&B.
How did you like your time as a spokesman for Vanilla Coke?
It was great. I made a s---load of money. What can I say?
Were you ever in the mafia?
Friendly with people, though?
Yes. Very close. But I was never arrested, never been to jail. But I grew up with them, they were there and I was friends with them. But my dad was there saying, “Even if you don’t do anything, you can still get in trouble. Don’t waste your talent, son.”
What’s the best lesson your parents taught you?
The saddest thing in life is wasted talent. I never forgot that. Have you seen “A Bronx Tale”?
I haven’t. I apologize. I don’t watch that many movies.
What’s the matter with you? You gotta see it. Not because I’m in it. Some day you gotta make your kids watch it, because it gives them lessons in life.
Why should people come to your restaurant?
They’re gonna come here and they’re gonna be taken back in time to when it was all about the food, in the ’50s and ’60s in the Bronx. This is pizza that’s all about the ingredients and the love of food. Enjoy the ambience. And If I’m here, say hello to me.
The restaurant, at 1415 Aliceanna St., will initially open for dinner from 5 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week, with lunch, late-night dining, take-out and curb side service to be offered in the coming months.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun