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.
Custino said the reason he decided to open his own place was because of the overwhelming response he got while working at Falcone's.
“People really missed me,” he said. “I had no idea people loved my food so much.”
That food includes the aforementioned sandwiches and lasagna along with Fettuccini Alfredo, spaghetti and now pizza.
“My son Angelo developed the crust,” Custino said. “He learned under some great chefs out in California.”
Angelo also has a passion for organic ingredients and heart-friendly foods, which is where the Hearts of Palm salad on the new menu came from.
“Truthfully, I was so shocked that all my old wonderful customers remembered me and my food that I was blindsided,” Custino said. “Every day, not one, but many people started asking if I would please open my own place so that their particular favorite food items could be served.”
The 10-layer lasagna is the consummate family-style version of the dish — big, cheesy and hard to stop eating. The pizza was a revelation with a crispy crust and excellent toppings. But there's really no way to talk about Custino's without talking about the Rush Street special, the Italian roast beef.
“The beef is slow-roasted 15 hours,” Custino said.
For full-on flavor, either have it dipped in the au jus or request some on the side. I like hot peppers with mine but am happy to have the version with sweet peppers and onions. Add a side of roasted potato wedges and a meatball and a link of sausage and some toast and a salad. Well, maybe just the potatoes ... or the meatball ...
Enough already. Decide for yourself. This is family-friendly dining with a premium on value. The drive-through is operating and the perfect temptation to bring home a tray of lasagna for about 15 bucks.
Custino's Italian Kitchen is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Go online to www.custinos.com to check out their Facebook page.