Photo by Keith May"Let me give you a little ambiance," our waiter said, reaching over to light a tiny tabletop candle. "It'll make all the difference in the world." He needn't have bothered. If there had been any more atmosphere in Angelo's and Vinci's Ristorante, Fullerton's own oasis of quirky southern Italian charm, we would have passed out from oxygen deprivation.
The cavernous, four-story former outdoor market (a relic dating from the cobblestone-and-buggy days of Old Fullertina) creaks with character—sort of a traditional Italian restaurant directed by Ed Wood. Call it Spaghetti Postmodern: there, a "love altar" enshrines a generation of the Italian dynasty that inspired Angelo's and Vinci's back in the early '70s; above, gazing down adoringly is the Phantom of the Opera flanked by a court of pintsize imps and snapshot-frozen trapeze artists; lining the halls like stained-glass saints in a cathedral, are images and invocations of Romeo and Juliet, Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and—naturally—Stallone and Sinatra.
The bathroom faucets are delicately sculpted swans—well, for the ladies; in the men's room, they're more basic brass fixtures, but this decorative deficiency is remedied by the collage of sultry Italian swimsuit models cascading across one wall. And, of course, there are the monsters in the basement.
It's all the fevered brainchild of Steven Peck (baptized Stefano Iganizo Apostle' Pecoraro), a noted actor, producer and choreographer who cut his teeth on a Sinatra/MacLaine flick in 1958 and later went on to such roles as "First Gangster." Every artifact, every mannequin and every faux storefront in Angelo's and Vinci's is a symbolic dedication to the ancestors, the comrades and even the inspirations—not surprisingly, Fellini gets a nod—that have made Peck and his restaurant what they are today, though we're not exactly sure how the Styrofoam-headed Dracula figures in.
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Of course, this time of year, Styrofoam-headed Draculi alone are nothing remarkable, but Peck's able chefs craft such winning Italian fare that even the décor fades into the background. We started with an order of bruschetta, hearty hunks of crusty Italian bread topped with spicy-slick chunks of tomato and generous dollops of pesto sauce and Parmesan. Sharp but still inviting, it served nicely as an appetizer—perhaps too nicely, as we were chasing crumbs with our forks by the time a small bowl of minestrone soup arrived. The soup complemented both the bruschetta and the décor quite neatly: slightly tangy, thick with substance (veggies, in the case of the soup) and a pleasure to devour.
Angelo's and Vinci's offers a menu brimming with southern Italian—Sicilian and Neapolitan—cuisine, from thick-crusted pizzas to an armada of hand-stuffed pasta, fish and even takeout subs. But we ordered the pollo parmigiana, touted as something of a house specialty. It was slathered in a tasty marinara sauce and a crisp yet pillowy blanket of mozzarella. Appropriately (given Mr. Peck's staunchly traditional bent), it came in monstrously family-sized portions. After plowing fervently through what seemed like hectares of pollo parmigiana, we paused, panting, and grabbed frantically for drinks. Angelo's and Vinci's boasts a full and, indeed, impressive bar, but we opted for a bracing swig of ice water and renewed resolve. The sides of penne pasta and vegetables were both light, tender and saucy, but we'd mangia'd till we could mangia no more.
As we departed, carefully threading our way toward a slim sliver of daylight, we encountered Mr. Peck himself, gliding from table to table to make sure his guests were getting the royal treatment. "You look lost," he frowned. He was right. And after a few leisurely hours dining with the Flying Gelardis, the Phantom of the Opera, Dracula and Sly Stallone, could you blame us?
ANGELO'S AND VINCI'S RISTORANTE, LOCATED AT 550 N. HARBOR BLVD., FULLERTON, IS OPEN Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight. (714) 879-4022. DINNER FOR TWO, $15-$30, FOOD ONLY. FULL BAR. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.