Sammy Patrenella Shares Some Family History

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Photo courtesy SMU digital library
The Carrabba/Patrenella family emigrated from Sicily and arrived in the Port of Galveston around the time this photo was taken, in 1912.
This week's feature story (online Wednesday) takes an in-depth look at the Houston families who developed our diverse food scene into what it is today. We spent hours researching and interviewing family members to compile their stories, but not everything could make it into print. In celebration of these fascinating family histories, we'll be posting on Eating ... Our Words interesting anecdotes and extended quotes that didn't make it into the print edition. We hope you find these folks as fascinating as we did.

"Johnny Carrabba is my cousin, and I'm his uncle. His grandmother was my dad's sister, and his grandfather was my mom's uncle."

That's how Sammy Patrenella, Sr. of Patrenella's Italian Restaurant attempted to explain his family tree to me. I couldn't figure out how to draw that family tree, and hours of perusing Ancestry.com yielded few results in terms of a Patrenella/Carrabba relationship, but Johnny Carrabba echoed something similar when I spoke to him about his family. Regardless of how, exactly, the two are related, it's clear that Patrenella knows a great deal about his family's story and, by extension, the story of the Carrabba family as well.

The following is a heartwarming tale he told me about his ancestors' (the Carrabbas) journey to America.

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Tony's Still Wows Nearly 50 Years After First Opening

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Photo courtesy of Tony's
The seared foie gras with Sicilian blood orange reduction is not to be missed.
With newer, hipper Italian restaurants opening in Houston every year, it can be easy to overlook the fine-dining behemoth that is Tony's in favor of something, perhaps, less dated. But this would be a mistake.

Tony's opened in 1965 as a mom-and-pop Italian eatery serving hearty bowls of pasta and recipes owner Tony Vallone learned from his family. In part due to his interest in the culinary realm and in part thanks to prodding from a developer, Gerald Hines, Vallone began transitioning to fine dining. Now, nearly 50 years later, Tony's is the place you suggest to your wealthy, retired friends when they want to drop some dough for a birthday dinner. When people talk about Tony's, they tend to lump it in a category of "expensive, fancy and for an older crowd" or "expensive, fancy and with a tasting menu."

If you've never been to Tony's, though, or if you haven't been in a long time, I urge you to go back, and soon. Yes, you might run into an oil baron treating his family to a lavish meal with ten courses of small,tasting-menu portions. But you'll also find large bowls of perfect pasta and impeccable steaks and Tony Vallone himself stopping by tables to check on customers while his wife greets diners at the door. It's still the same mom-and-pop joint Vallone opened back in '65. It's just a little bigger now.

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The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town

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Photo courtesy Laurenzo's
Mama Ninfa and her grandson, Domenic Laurenzo.
Houston is a town inundated with great restaurants, but in tracing the city's history, you discover that many of the big names in the restaurant industry are related to each other in some way, whether by blood or business.

Some families have continued to stick with their own, too, but to live and cook in Houston is to be influenced by all the disparate cultures and flavors around you. This is how we get the major Italian families creating restaurants, each with a unique nod to their Houston roots. This is how we get the subtle Tex-Mex influences sneaking into Churrascos and the Latin influences popping up at Molina's.

And this is why the restaurants that dominate the Houston food scene today are here. This is why we eat Cajun food and fajitas and plantain chips and truffles. This is why we have fewer large chain restaurants than other cities of our size. And it's part of what makes the Houston dining scene so exciting.

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12 Houston Chefs with Celebrity Doppelgangers: Restaurant Weeks Edition

It's Doppelganger time! See which Houston local chef tried to steal a kiss from Natalie Portman and who plays for the MLB in his spare time.

And don't forget to support Houston Restaurant Week by visiting the chef's restaurants all month long (special bonus: if you sneak into the kitchen without getting arrested, you can compare the lookalikes in person).

See also:
- 13 Houston Chefs Who Have Celebrity Doppelgangers
- 12 Celebrity Chefs Who Have Cartoon Doppelgangers
- 13 Celebrity Chef Doppelgangers

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Photo by Mai Pham
12. Jeff Axline vs. Vincent Cassel

This newest executive banquet chef at Hotel Zaza chef looks eerily familiar. Did we see him backstage at Swan Lake...or was it heisting a jeweled Fabergé egg opposite Brad Pitt? Wait, maybe it was at Brooklyn Athletic Club. We can't remember.

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Photo by Mai Pham
11. Brandi Key vs. Natalie Maines

Executive chef of Coppa and 1/3 of the country trio the Dixie Chicks. For a taste of Key's delicate Italian dishes, we are ready to make nice.


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Houston Native Wine Celeb Ray Isle Returns Home, Finds Food Scene "Deeply Local While Still Cosmopolitan"

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Photos by Jeremy Parzen
Houston native and Food & Wine magazine executive wine editor Ray Isle (left) spent the last few days eating his way through Houston. Our city's restaurant scene has "captured the national media's attention," he told me, "because it combines the global and the local."
My 80-year old mother may not know his name but she knows his face.

"You mean that handsome young man who talks about wine on the Today show with Kathie Lee [Gifford] and Hoda [Kotb]?" she asks when I mention that I'm having lunch in Houston with Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle.

But hey, let's cut Ray some slack: My mother isn't exactly totally up to speed on the highest-profile wine writers in our country today. But she does watch morning television religiously.

Thanks to his monthly columns and frequent appearances on national television, Ray is known to more American wine lovers than any other U.S. wine writer working today. And his work not only reflects the heightened levels of wine connoisseurship in our country, it also shapes and informs the American wine palate on a scale unimaginable even a few short years ago.

Yesterday, Ray sat down with me at The Pass & Provisions on Taft for a sampling of its menu and a chat about his visit this week to Texas, where he spoke at the Austin Food & Wine Festival and spent some time catching up with family and eating his way through Houston.


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Bow Down, Chickens: Beyoncé Reps Frenchy's in New Songs

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The King had peanut butter and banana sandwiches. King B has Frenchy's chicken and boudin.
Houston's favorite son -- you didn't know Beyoncé is also known as King B? -- has been getting plenty of attention recently for her new songs, "Bow Down" and "I Been On." Some of the attention is positive: The Root praised the anthem for Beyoncé's "turn as a rapper," and Jezebel is calling the spliced-together tracks "totally new and totally different."

Some of the attention, of course, is negative. The Washington Post accused Beyoncé's first new tracks in two years of being anti-feminist, and Rush Limbaugh -- the guy who's been successfully trolling Americans for years -- agreed. Limbaugh hilariously "misinterpreted" Beyoncé's command of "bow down, bitches" to mean that she was bowing down to her husband, rapper Jay-Z, telling listeners on his radio show that "[b]ecause she married a rich guy...[Beyoncé] now understands it's worth it to bow down."

What can't be misinterpreted in the song, however, is King B's love for Frenchy's.


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13 Houston Chefs Who Have Celebrity Doppelgangers

Check out which local chef sure looks a lot like a Spice Girl, who might be hosting a game show in his spare time, and who we think is a long-lost triplet:

See also:
- 12 Celebrity Chefs Who Have Cartoon Doppelgangers
- 13 Celebrity Chef Doppelgangers

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Photo by Mai Pham
13. Kaz Edwards vs. Joshua Jackson

We could swear Uchi's Chef de Cuisine starred on Dawson's Creek before culinary school.



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Who Was Lucille Bishop Smith?

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Photos courtesy of Lucille's
In addition to being an all-around BAMF, Smith also rocked some spectacles which I seriously covet.
The subject of this week's cafe review, Lucille's, frustrated me so much over the course of three visits that I struggled this week to find much nice to say about it in my weekly review advance (the post you're reading right now which -- hopefully -- directs readers to each week's restaurant review).

Determined to find something positive to focus on -- after all, I wanted desperately to like Lucille's, especially after a terrific first visit back in September -- I decided to discover what I could about Lucille Bishop Smith, the woman for whom Lucille's is named.

Smith was chef/owner Chris Williams's great-grandmother and a Texas culinary pioneer. And while she may not be as well-known as women who tore up Texas kitchens -- such as Helen Corbitt or Zephyr Wright -- Smith was a force of nature herself.

"Women have carved out their own niche by inventing or developing products that arose out of their experiences as women," writes Mary Beth Rogers in the introduction to Legendary Ladies of Texas, in which Smith is cited as one such lady.

"Lucille Bishop Smith invented the first hot biscuit mix," writes Rogers, "and led the way for a new food industry."


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The 5 Sexiest Celebrity Chefs: Ladies Edition

We've taken a look at the Sexiest Men in the Kitchen (meatballs, anyone?). Now it's the ladies' time to turn up the heat.

Check out the Top 5 Hottest Female Chefs:

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It's like you can see the crazy in her eyes...
5. Nadia Giosia

As in, "Nadia G." As in, the wild and slightly psychotic Italian but Canadian-born chef, singer and host of Nadia G's Bitchin' Kitchen.

This sultry chef started out with a Web series before bitchin' her way onto slightly bigger screens with shows on the Cooking Channel and on Food Network Canada. With dirty blond hair, big red lips and a bad-girl attitude, Nadia teaches us how to rock out in the kitchen, all while wearing three-inch stilettos.

...and then she does things like this:

So yes, she may be nuts -- but sometimes, a little crazy can be hot. Right?

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The 5 Sexiest Celebrity Male Chefs

It's getting hot in the kitchen, and not just from the flames.

Check out the Top 5 Hottest Celebrity Male Chefs that make our flames broil:

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Double your pleasure...
5. Govind Armstrong

Armstrong's dreamy locks first made our hearts flutter on shows like Bravo's Top Chef and Top Chef Masters and the Food Network's Iron Chef America. Dubbed the " Culinary King of Los Angeles," the chef owns the popular 8 oz. Burger Bar and is the author of a steamy cookbook, Small Bites, Big Nights: Seductive Little Plates for Intimate Occasions and Lavish Parties.

With his sexy, laid-back vibe and killer smile, we wouldn't mind joining him for a seductive, "big" night of our own...

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