A few months ago, I wrote about a merger between Falcone's and former Oklahoma City restaurateur Phil Custino. Well, that merger went so well for Custino, he's opened his own place.
Custino's Italian Kitchen, 2724 W Britton Road, opened a few weeks ago in the space formerly occupied briefly by The Boneyard Steakhouse but more notably by KC Blues and Barbecue.
Custino, who started out working in commissary kitchens in Chicago markets, first came to Oklahoma City to fill what he recognized as a void of authentic Italian food.
Operating out of an abandoned Taco Bell on N May near Wilshire Boulevard, Custino introduced us to the Chicago-style Italian roast beef sandwich. In the early days, he sold that sandwich — dry or “run troo da river” — with either sweet or hot peppers, lasagna by the slice and cannoli for dessert. That's it.
That sandwich is one of the first things I ever ate in Oklahoma City that made a food memory. I remember days hanging with my college roommate Kip Shubert, who will doubtlessly be there the second he hears it's reopened, at Custino's two or three times a week.
The food was great, the prices were right, and pretty soon, Custino was expanding not only the menu but his locations.
Today, Custino says he'd rather have his eyeballs removed from his skull and spoon-fed to him than own more than one location.
He likes to tell a story where he was doing a radio program with longtime friend and current business partner Bud Elder only to hear a fire call on the police radio for his southside location.
His lasagna and baked ziti became so popular he decided to form Supreme Quality Food Products and struck a production deal with Hormel in 1998. And that's where the bad news began for Oklahoma City.
Pretty soon, Custino was living in California, then Florida, and his sandwiches and lasagna became the subject of memory then myth.
Since then, Custino has battled cancer and heart problems before happening back to Oklahoma City to visit Elder, who had just had his own open-heart surgery.
Elder helped connect Custino with Falcone, and when the time came, the two partnered to open Custino's Italian Kitchen.