In a city where Italian food rarely rises to the level of fine dining, Ferraro’s is a notable exception. So it was a bit of a surprise when the family announced their next project: a pair of casual pizza spots dubbed Pizza Forte in Sunset Station this month and the Hard Rock Hotel in April.
Sitting with father-and-son chef/restaurateurs Gino and Mimmo Ferraro in their eponymous Paradise Road fine-dining spot, tasting pizza recipes for the new casual casino endeavors, it’s hard to believe 2015 marks the family’s 30th year of running local restaurants. It was in November 1985 when Gino—at the time working as a wholesale food supplier providing to various casinos and other restaurants—decided to open a pizzeria and deli called Ferraro’s Café on Sahara Avenue and Jones Boulevard. At the time, Mimmo was only 6 years old.
“It was always fun for me,” Mimmo says of the early days. “I was there a lot, because that’s what our family dynamic was. After school we’d go to the restaurant. Homework was done at the restaurant, and after-school lunch was done at the restaurant.” He also worked there as a kid, stocking shelves and grating cheese.
That first restaurant only had six tables. But thanks to rumors that it had become popular with certain wise guys, it quickly became a go-to spot for people who reasoned that, if the Mafia liked it, the sauces must be good. In response to that newfound popularity, Gino decided to convert it from a pizza place and deli to a full-scale Italian restaurant. In 1992, continued success prompted a move to an even larger location on Flamingo Road. It was there that Mimmo eventually took the reins in the kitchen, although his father remained an integral part of the operation. Finally, they expanded once again with a move in 2009 to a still larger location across from the Hard Rock Hotel.
Today, Ferraro’s Italian Restaurant & Bar remains a Las Vegas institution thanks to its strong Italian wine program, discounts and specials for locals, and one of the town’s most revered osso bucco preparations. Soon, with Pizza Forte, Gino will offer two styles of pizza: round New York-street-style by the pie and thin, square, Roman-style by the slice. (He insists the latter is best enjoyed by purchasing two slices and folding them together as a sandwich.) These are the exact same pizzas he was making nearly 30 years ago at Ferraro’s Café. “Not Neapolitan!” he insists. “Because if I don’t like something—I don’t care if the public likes it—I don’t do it. And I don’t like Neapolitan pizza.”
There will also be meatballs, plus three varieties of hot dogs—100 percent beef; pork and beef; and pork and veal—provided by Syracuse’s Hofmann Sausage Company. The Hard Rock Hotel location will also offer beer and wine. And in addition to dining in, customers will be able to place orders for delivery to their hotel rooms.
Gino says the expansion was inspired by the trends he’s seen while serving as a board member for the Nevada Restaurant Association. “The world and the town are moving that way,” he says confidently. “The segment of food that is growing the most right now as a business is quick-serve. Quick-serve is the future.”
But have no fear; father and son insist this is an expansion, not a change in direction. That superb osso bucco and the other delicacies of their fine-dining flagship aren’t going anywhere.