After a three-month-long closure, old-school Italian eatery Salvatore Scallopini in Birmingham reopened its doors early last week. The local restaurant institution owned by the Bongiovanni family has anchored the corner of North Old Woodward Avenue and Harmon Street for more than 30 years and over the last several months has undergone a significant overhaul including an extensive interior renovation and menu updates.
The Birmingham location of Salvatore Scallopini was founded and continues to be co-owned by patriarch Larry Bongiovanni. One of several restaurants scattered throughout metro Detroit, Sal’s got its start in 1985 in Birmingham primarily as a quick-service deli counter with carry out options and a handful of folding chairs and tables for dine-in customers. As patrons’ fondness for the establishment grew, the restaurant also spread its footprint to a neighboring space and added a liquor license to its repertoire. However, it still lacked a bar area. With the interior renovations and changes to the menu, Larry’s son and fellow restaurateur Joe Bongiovanni tells Eater, the family hopes to “take the original idea [for Sal’s] and bring it full circle.”
The Bongiovanni’s worked with Ron Rea of well-known Birmingham architecture firm Ron and Roman on the revamp of Sal’s. The overall goal was to modernize the restaurant while maintaining the spirit of classic red sauce Italian establishments, Joe Bongiovanni says. The restaurant now features a cozy six-seat L-shaped bar at the entrance to the restaurant flanked by dining room with booths and four-top tables in dark walnut tones. Mid-century gold-framed mirrors hang on the walls alongside black-on-white cartoon drawings of Pinocchio.
When it comes to menu updates for longtime restaurants, not everyone is always welcoming of change. Joe Bongiovanni admits that some regulars have been slightly apprehensive about the tweaks to Sal’s nostalgic atmosphere, but notes that patrons can still count on familiar items including handmade pastas and veal — though the menu is now a la carte. The owners hope that by changing the format of the menu and slightly lowering the prices of items, customers will be encouraged to explore more of the dishes. “I feel like the modern customer wants to try lots of stuff,” he says.
Dishes such as the Sal’s caesar salad are now served in a more shareable format for two people. Other sections of the menu including those devoted to seafood have also been expanded to better showcase the Bongiovanni family’s Sicilian-style of cooking. Joe Bongiovanni says the restaurant also plans to begin offering slightly more adventurous specials, like squid ink linguine with calamari, olive oil, and garlic.
“We feel like our Italian food is something that we can put up against any in the city and we’re confident that it fits a niche,” he says.
Salvatore Scallopini is located at 505 N. Woodward Ave. in Birmingham; open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10:30 Friday; noon to 10:30 on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
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