In 1994, the only thing Bill Brazil knew about Italian roast-beef sandwiches was that they could be found at a take-out spot in an old Taco Bell called Custino's on N May Ave. Fifteen years later, Brazil is nearing a decade of success with Sophabella's Wine Bar and Bistro, 7628 N May, just a few blocks from the old Custino's. And he's also serving our Sandwich of the Month: the Italian Beef Combo. Brazil was managing a Kettle restaurant on N Meridian on Dec. 5, 1994, building on his restaurant career. In a blink of an eye, it all changed. "I was shot," Brazil said. A masked gunman burst into the store a little after 2 p.m. and began demanding customers get under their tables and turn over their valuables. Brazil said a bullet grazed his head. "I left the business after that," Brazil said. "Got a degree in business finance and moved to Chicago." But managing an office machinery outfit didn't fulfill him. He came back from Chicago with a newfound passion for the restaurant business and an equal passion for Italian food. "Believe it or not, everything at the Kettle was made in-house — pancake batters, waffle batters, biscuits, you name it," Brazil said. "I wanted to open an Italian restaurant that did that. ... We make our own pasta and do most of our own baking." Brazil gives credit to longtime friend Mark Amme, who owned Caffe Pranzo and helped get Pepperoni Grill off the ground. Amme agreed to make Brazil his kitchen apprentice for two years. "Mark is amazing. He really put us on a strong foundation." Brazil also got a boost when a cook he met in Chicago made a surprise visit to Oklahoma shortly after Sophabella's opened. "Jose (Romo) showed up on the doorstep, and he'd worked in a huge kitchen back in Chicago, but he wanted a little quieter lifestyle," Brazil said. "He's been with us ever since." The restaurant, named after Brazil's two daughters Sophia and Isabella, has long been known for its upscale dining and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, but a trip to the National Restaurant Association Convention in Chicago is responsible for the Italian Beef Combo. "We stopped in a little place near the convention, the name escapes me, and they had the sandwich on the menu," Brazil said. "I told my wife we should add this to the menu." The combo takes two of the best Italian sandwiches and makes them into one. In the early 1990s, Phil Custino brought to Oklahoma the Chicago-style Italian roast-beef sandwich, which is classic slow-roasted beef on a baguette with sweet or hot peppers, served with au jus either on the side or with the entire sandwich dipped into the au jus for a drippy, soggy wad of rich deliciousness. Unfortunately, Custino put behind his two stores to become a baked ziti mogul for Hormel. Sophabella's takes that style of sandwich and adds an Italian sausage link split and grilled. You can have it like that or add grilled sweet peppers, spicy giardiniera (a spicy mix of pickled vegetables) and cheese. Sophabella's is open daily, serving brunch Saturdays and Sundays. A late-night menu is offered Fridays. Find, rate and review more Oklahoma City restaurants on Wimgo.com
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11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday
10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Bar is open until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday