Leslie Marranca’s late husband Sam was the ultimate foodie and hospitable host.

He refined his palate by enjoying meals at restaurants all over the country, especially in Philadelphia, and opened his first eatery, Casa di Napoli in Exeter, which was open for a couple years. In 2010, Sam Marranca debuted Cafe Italia in his hometown of Pittston, where he was known as the face of the homey River Road restaurant.

“He always wanted something little with good food,” his wife said.

With the familiar voices of Frank Sinatra and Jerry Vale crooning for the dinner crowd, Cafe Italia became known as a

Plate of food

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Haddock Pizziaola

destination for classic Italian meals in a family-style atmosphere.

Manager Judy Hendry has served under the Marrancas since the restaurant opened and said it’s not uncommon for guests to visit each other’s tables to share wine or homemade limoncello. (Cafe Italia is a BYOB establishment.)

“I like when I see that happen,” Hendry said. “It’s not like a chain. We have our loyal diehards that come, even on certain days, and there’s always new faces.”

Business picked up considerably after the restaurant survived a flood in 2011, which left it submerged in more than five feet of water. But through extensive repairs and a dedication to reopening quickly, Cafe Italia remained out of commission for only seven weeks before it landed back on its feet.

That strong work ethic has been on display ever since in its kitchen, even after Sam Marranca died in May 2018. Everything is made to order, and the commitment to high-quality ingredients — a practice Marranca insisted on, regardless of price — has been rewarded with numerous readers’ choice awards through the years.

Bowl of seafood

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Seafood Fra Diavolo

For appetizers, the bruschetta is really good, the antipasta is a big hit, and the fried calamari — made fresh and never frozen — is popular, Hendry said. On the dinner side, Seafood Fra Diavolo and dinners served with homemade sauce, like the house vodka or Bolognese, keep customers coming back time and again, she added. For a sweet ending to a meal, Cafe Italia offers classic desserts, such as cannoli and tiramisu.

The restaurant seats about 100 and can be booked for parties such as baby and bridal showers and funeral lunches, though it does also do catering off-site. The week includes regular dinner specials, such as Polenta on Wednesdays and Oven-Roasted Chicken with Potatoes on Thursdays. But even for the most dedicated guests, there’s always something new to try at Cafe Italia.

“There’s so much competition in this valley, it’s survival of the fittest,” Hendry said. “You’ve got to offer something unique and always stay on your toes, and so we do that with our nightly features.”

Cafe Italia

  • Address: 1723 River Road, Pittston
  • Phone: 570-299-7724
  • Established: 2010
  • Owner: Leslie Marranca
  • Cuisine: Classic Italian
  • Hours: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Online: Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.