Gaetano's: all in the famiglia

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I dropped by Gaetano's last night for a Tasty Treat (a sausage and green chili strips baked in a pizza crust) and a taste of history. Wynkoop Holdings bought this classic joint back in 2005, taking over a restaurant that started as Ralph and Mamie Smaldone's Tejon Street Cafe back in 1934, then moved to 3760 Tejon Street and became Gaetano's.

The Smaldones soon became known for more than their marinara sauce, of course; the Gaetano's menu notes that the family's "history is rife with tales of gambling, bookmaking and even murder." So rife, in fact, that former Denver Post writer Dick Kreck is finishing up a book on the Smaldones.

When she recently reviewed Gaetano's in the Rocky Mountain News, Lori Midson recounted some of this history -- and was rebuked by a letter writer who wondered why it was relevant to bring up the Smaldones's shady past in a current critique of a restaurant.

Um, maybe because the restaurant itself plays off that past? Gaetano's makes "Italian to die for," the menu promises. "From one family to another."

And while Gaetano's food is just fine on its own, the history just gives it added flavor. -- Patricia Calhoun

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