Taste of Italy

Middletown Press by Sloan Brewster - 03/09/2009

scan0025_1.jpgMIDDLETOWN — In Italian, the word “esca” translates into the phrase “to lure.”

And that is just what Elisa Petrulis hopes to do — lure folks into Esca Restaurant and Wine Bar, where, she said, they will be able to sample esoteric wines and enjoy authentic Italian fare.

“I thought it was a catchy little phrase to lure people in,” Petrulis said.

Petrulis, who owns the restaurant, has no firm date for the opening, but said the restaurant should open some time in April.

She plans to offer upscale menu selections that will mirror fine dining experiences she has had in Italy. Though Petrulis was not ready to give too many surprises away, she said items such as seafood, filet mignon and other authentic Italian options would be available along with a full menu of wines.

Petrulis’ mother, Marisa Bramato, has been helping prepare the menu.

“I had a lot of impact on the menu,” Marisa said. “You know, I do a lot of cooking in the home”web_pic2.jpg

She said she has enjoyed the creative effort and brainstorming with the chef about such things as presentation.

The inside of the restaurant has been slowly transformed, and last week, muralist Patrick Ganino worked on the finishing touches of several murals depicting the Italian countryside.

Ganino is owner and founder of Creative Evolution, a Durham-based mural and faux-finishing company, and the Institute of Decorative Paining.

Once the murals were complete, Ganino began work on a feature that will be somewhat unique to the establishment — a wall behind the bar that will be shaped like the inside of a cave.

Ganino is using what is called vertical concrete to create the effect.

“The use of vertical concrete is incredible because it’s lighter weight, more flexible so you can build it out thicker than regular concrete,” the muralist said.

Like most of the interior design, that idea came from Petrulis’ father, Carmelo Bramato.

“My father, he really wants to make — do — something different,” Petrulis said. “[He’s] trying to make it look kind of like an old wine cellar.”

Specifically, she clarified — a wine cellar from his homeland — Italy.

web_pic.jpgSince she was a child, Petrulis has spent time every year in her family’s home in Sicily; in fact, she adores the country.

“It’s a beautiful place; we try to go every year,” she said. “It’s beautiful. I’d love to tour all of Italy.”

Now she wants to bring a fine dining experience, reminiscent of the Italian countryside, to Middletown, or as she puts it, “really bringing back the flavors and the true essence of Italy.”

It has been a long road. For more than 18 months, signs in windows of the exterior of the building, on the corner of Main and Washington streets, have indicated the establishment would eventually open, but at times it seemed it was never coming. There was chatter that perhaps the owners had changed their minds or gotten into financial difficulty.

Not so.

Rather, Petrulis said, the family has worked hard to do everything right and Carmelo has taken painstaking efforts to design the restaurant himself. He has knocked down walls and converted office space into a second floor for the restaurant.

The interior of the restaurant is surprisingly large. According to Petrulis, it is 6,500 square feet and sits 250 diners.

“You know, we really had to knock down this old building,” Petrulis said. “It’s been [my father] — no real designer, no architect.”

The Bramato family owns the building and housed another family business, Cortina Tile, in it for 17 years. Three years ago, Carmelo and Marisa decided it was time to expand and bought a building on Rapallo Avenue, where they now run Pacific Granite and Marble.

While she waits for Esca to open, Petrulis works for her parents in the marble shop, and when the restaurant opens, her parents will spend a lot of their time there, Marisa said.

“We all work together,” the proud mother said. “We’re kind of used to it.”

Ganino has painted murals across the country and internationally and a few months ago did the interior wall of Judge Judy Sheindlin’s Greenwich home. He offers classes in painting murals. For more info on Ganino and his art, check out his Web site at creativeevolution.net.

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