By Ken Martin

ANOTHER MINI-ERA ENDS: Castro Valley seems to hold some attraction for somewhat unique small businesses. One such was the original funky Frank’s Garage that ended a 48 year run when Frank Lockwood sold it to a new owner a few years back. The name remains but the atmosphere changed drastically, ending a small era.

Another mini-era came to an end last Sunday night when Sazio Ristorante Italiano closed its doors for the final time. Sazio, arguably one of the best Italian restaurants in the East Bay and inarguably the best one in Castro Valley, was not a victim of the present tough economic times, but rather of the Sutter Health octopus that bought the property they occupied and pushed them out. Their demise certainly leaves a culinary gap in our town.

Eighteen years ago two guys from Sicily, brothers-in-law Tony Principati and Antonio Fillari, who had been working in North Beach restaurants, came across the Bay and moved into the Lake Chabot Road facility that had been vacated by Barretta’s, another Italian eatery. Starting in that obscure location across the road from Eden Hospital in an almost invisible building in the back of the parking lot and having only a small identifying sign in one window and buying no advertising, by offering excellent plain traditional Italian food and equally excellent service, they slowly grew and prospered. With Tony doing the cooking and Antonio acting as maitre d’ and head waiter, and depending solely on word-of-mouth testimony from people that discovered them, they developed a large loyal following and eventually reached a point where it was sometimes difficult to get a table on Friday and Saturday nights.

The atmosphere at Sazio Ristorante Italiano was that it had no atmosphere. It was just people enjoying great food in a dining room with decor that never changed in eighteen years. It was a place where you saw the same faces whenever you went in there. Even though you saw them repeatedly over many years, sometimes you never even learned their names but you greeted them and engaged them in conversation. And Tony, the chef, frequently sang Italian songs while preparing the meals.

The decor was simple. It was not designed to make you feel like you were in Italy. There were no murals of villas on the Amalfi Coast or vineyards in the Tuscan hills on the walls. Beyond a small map of Sicily on the back wall and a large Italian flag, there was little else Italian here except the excellent food and hospitality. Most of the wall coverings were paintings done by local artists and they were all for sale.

And so all this is gone now. For those of you that never discovered Sazio, you missed a great dining experience. Those of us that were fortunate enough to have enjoyed this unique little restaurant will forever have a hole in our culinary hearts. But we can live in hope that these two guys from Sicily via San Francisco, Tony and Antonio, will start over again somewhere. If they ever do, a huge crowd of faithful former diners will be at their door, guaranteed!

Arrivederci e buona fortuna, Sazio!