Since 1925, Pittsburg County has been a popular destination for classic southern Italian food, thanks to the Italians who came to the area to mine coal but stayed to serve pasta, lamb fries and Choctaw beer.
Pete Prichard opened Pete's Place in 1925, and Dom Giacomo opened The Isle of Capri in 1950, both in tiny Krebs. The two boast more than 140 years combined years in service, but two “newer” eateries, GiaComo's and Roseanna's, have more than 90 years in combined serving the Pittsburg County Italian staples.
Not long after the old Texas Road that helped establish McAlester became a part of the new U.S. 69, Giacomo was the first to build on it with a sleek, modern structure in the style Frank Lloyd Wright. He called it GiaComo's. Guests entered into a lobby equipped with a working water fountain and a ceiling that changes color from red to white to blue, and walls covered either in painted mirrors or plastered rock. An extra dining room was added on the north side of the restaurant, but otherwise, Dom's vision in 1959 remains intact.
“Everything is original,” said Wendell Brewer, a relative who has worked there since he was a child.
GiaComo's was run by Dom's brother Nick. Like his brother, Nick Giacomo started working early in life.
Nick's daughter, Dora Lea Brewer, said her father's first job was as a lamplighter at age 9. Each night, he rode on horseback around Krebs, lighting street lamps, and circling back in the morning to snuff them out. He did that until he turned 12, when he started joining his father in the coal mines.
“People knew him all over,” said Wendell Brewer, Dora Lea's son. “I don't care where we were, people everywhere knew him — Atoka, Durant, Denison — anywhere.
Today GiaComo's is run by Dora Lea and Wendell Brewer with help from Heather Solomon, Nick's great-granddaughter. Wendell Brewer said he's been working in GiaComo's since he was a child.
“I waited my first table when I was 10 years old. I'll never forget it,” he said. “Dom wasn't in here too much, but he'd come by, and everybody knew it when he was here. I was scared to death of that man. He had that flat-top hair cut, big guy. He look over at me and said in that deep voice of his, ‘Get over there, and get an order off that table.' Like I said, I was scared to death of him, so I run over and get me a pencil and pad, only 10 years old, and took their order.”
The menu at GiaComo's is similar to its cousins in Krebs: steak, chicken, lamb fries, meatballs, ravioli and lasagna. Wendell Brewer said the top two sellers are steak and lamb fries.
“We're known for our steaks,” he said. “Every year, we win the award for best steaks in town.”
Brewer said he added, in 1989 or '90, saute-pan items, which none of the other restaurants did at the time. GiaComo's was also first to offer shrimp scampi. Heather, Wendell and Dora Lea also offer classic chateaubriand, chicken Florentine, veal parmigiana and Alfredo with shrimp or a seafood mixture.
Food is served family-style, and no meal is complete without Muenster cheese slices and pepperoncinis, and hot lamb fries.
If you go: GiaComo's, at 19th Street and Comanche in McAlester, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, call (918) 423-2662.
On the east end of town, you'll find Roseanna's, opened by Frank Prichard and his family in 1975. No family has more of its members dedicated day-to-day to serving the family recipes established in 1925.
Prichard married Rose Ann Morgan, an only child, who bore him 12 children.
“My mother always wanted a big family,” said daughter Liz Prichard, who helps run Roseanna's as she has her entire life.
To support those kids, Frank Prichard worked for many years at the munitions plant just south of McAlester but often talked with his father about opening a takeout restaurant that served the foods their family had made famous. When Frank was unexpectedly laid off in 1975, he and his family made the dream become a reality, opening Roseanna's the same year. Daughter Emily said her father didn't want to call it Frank's Place, so hegave the restaurant his wife's name in its Italian form.
The idea was a hit, and before the place turned three years old, five tables were added for dine-in. But Frank broke his leg in 1978, which was bad enough, but while in the hospital, it was determined he needed open-heart surgery. Roseanna's closed, but the dismay of locals motivated the family to resuscitate Roseanna's, purchasing and refurbishing the old white house that Claude Kiple had built for his wife, Mabel, in 1930 on the east edge of Krebs.
The new Roseanna's opened Jan. 30, 1980, and legend has it that the Kiples have continued to protect their home, which has now swelled to 130 seats, with an occasional bump in the night ever since.
Roseanna's is the youngest of Pittsburg County's big four and did not adopt the family-style service the other three use. The food in the little white house on the eastern edge of town serves similar fare to its cousin restaurants, but it uses recipes unique to Frank Prichard's clan. The pasta sauce is their father's recipe, and the specialty of the house is gnocchi, an Italian dumpling made with potato, flour and eggs. Ravioli comes standard or fried. Dinners include Michael Prichard's contribution: steak and peppers.
Roseanna's also serves Italian standards such as eggplant Parmesan, spicy meatballs, Italian chef salads drizzled with homemade vinaigrette and Italian sausages, plus the Krebs standards of fried chicken, steak and lamb fries. Roseanna's also serves fried shrimp and focaccia pizza.
After Frank Prichard's death in 1988, his children united to keep their father's dream alive.
“I remember when my dad used to come out of the kitchen wearing his apron, and it would be covered in tomato sauce and how embarrassed I'd get,” Liz Prichard said. “But now when I look back on it, I understand how important that was. People loved him because he paid attention to whether their food was cooked the way they expected.”
Rose Ann died in 2008, but Paul, Peter, Liz, Claire and Vincent still work to keep the youngest and smallest of the Pittsburg County Italian restaurants charging into its fourth decade in business.
If you go: Roseanna's, 205 E Washington Ave. in Krebs, is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. The restaurant is open 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (918) 423-2055.