'Garlic … it goes in everything'

By Annessa Chumbley, RD

Cheesy, saucy, rustic lasagna, made with no apologies.  Sound good?  If you’re looking for big, hearty, bold Italian flavors, there’s a restaurant in your backyard you need to visit!  The heart of the owner mirrors his menu…so meet J. Razzo’s John Perazzo.

John has a captivating story and dry sense of humor.  Originally from New Jersey, he tells me he ended up in Indiana when he came to Butler for college…to play basketball, he joked.

J. Razzo’s sophisticated, contemporary ambiance and classic Italian food make for a relaxing & fulfilling evening.

Q: Not to be too candid, but there are many Italian restaurants.  What do you think sets your restaurant apart?

A: Well, I think there are three things, first and foremost being the quality of our food.  I often shop at the Carmel Farmer’s Market for fresh local vegetables.  Everything we make should taste like the best dish a person has had.  Second is the friendliness of our servers & staff.  Third is the secret ingredient – personal touch.  We genuinely care about everyone who walks through that door. 

Q: You own this restaurant, so we’re sure there are many roles you fulfill.  Where can you be found on a busy Friday or Saturday night?

A: As the host.  I stand at the door every night.  I feel it is important for people to see the same friendly face when they walk through the door.  Also, this allows me to keep up with everything that goes on in my restaurant.  I enjoy talking to my customers!

Q: Who inspired you to cook & love Italian food?

A: My grandfather.  He came to Ellis Island from Italy.  People from the whole neighborhood would come over to eat – and he loved every minute of it.  I learned then that cooking and great food brings people together.

Q: It’s obvious you take a lot of pride in your food and restaurant. If there is one word you want to come to your customer’s minds when they think of your food, what would it be?

A: Consistent…and fresh, to throw in a second.  I believe reliability is one of the greatest strengths, and I want my customers to count on my restaurant to deliver delicious Italian food every single time.

Q: Tell me about your menu.

A:  It’s classic Italian, and we rotate our menu four times a year.  Think lasagna, spaghetti & meatballs, chicken Parmigiano, pasta, risotto, and fresh fish…lots of fresh fish.  Our Lasagna is by far our most popular menu item.  After that come Chicken Parmigiano and Chicken Veneto.  We do a lot of cooking with red and white wines.  Red always goes with the tomato items, and white wine with fish and vegetables.

Q: How do you create new menu items?

A: My head cook and I create something, then we have the staff try it, and we continue to tweak it until we get it perfected.  I have the best kitchen & cooks.  Whenever I hire a new cook, they always say it’s their favorite place they’ve worked.  We never yell, never get stressed.  We just enjoy our food and our customers!

Q: What’s your favorite thing to make?

A: Pestos.  The smell is fresh, the taste is fresh.  We like to get creative in coming up with new kinds….they are a defining item in Italian cooking.

Q: Do you stay on top of food trends and try new techniques with your dishes?

A: Definitely!  Lately we have been into lemons for their flavor and nutritional aspect.  We freeze the entire lemon, and then grate it into dishes and sauces.

Q: Favorite ingredient?

A: Garlic.  It goes in everything.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring restaurant owners or young food-lovers?

A:  The best way to learn anything and everything about food is by cooking it yourself….that uses all the senses and is the best teacher. 

Q: What’s your favorite thing about your profession?

A: Meeting and greeting people. Through the years, my customers have really become my friends.  I get to know my customers…their home, their kids, where they like to sit, etc.  I want to serve them and make them feel relaxed.

Q: We all like to know what’s in our restaurant owner’s home refrigerator & pantry.  What’s in yours?

A: A variety of cheese, my favorite being Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, a variety of vinegars, fresh fruits & vegetables, eggs, and peanut butter.  That last one is my favorite late night snack!

Q: Where do you like to eat in Carmel?

A: Pizzology.  I order a pasta dish and then end with a traditional pizza with sausage. Their food is delicious.

I had the pleasure of trying the Walleye in a panko crust with Vegetable Risotto. Fantastic!  I enjoyed every bite. The Walleye was light and flaky, perfectly cooked, and the risotto was melt-in-your-mouth creamy and filled with flavor.  I came back and had the Italian Wedge salad, and the Caprese Salad (yes, two salads), and the Grouper with Tomato Risotto (it’s no secret that I love food!). The Italian Wedge was perhaps one of the best salads I’ve ever enjoyed.  I highly recommend it. The Caprese features fresh, ripe, Indiana tomatoes, and was equally delicious.  Wonderful evening, wonderful restaurant.

J. Razzo’s will cater to specific allergies. Go for lunch or dinner at 12501 North Meridian Street and in Westfield at the corner of Ind. 32 and Carey Road.