At Mariano’s Original Pucceria in Exeter, the Italian dishes cooked up fresh in the kitchen are the result of generations of family heritage and tradition.
The restaurant’s namesake, Mariano Fanelli, was born in the Puglia region of Southern Italy, where he absorbed the culinary customs of his birthplace. When he met his wife, Linda, the New York City-born great-granddaughter of Italian immigrants, who likewise learned to cook from her family, especially her maternal grandmother, he fell in love.
After the pair married in 1988, they realized their shared love for cooking and decided to pursue their passion by purchasing a small soft-serve ice cream parlor in West Pittston with the help of their relatives. There, the Fanellis gradually introduced homemade specialities to customers, and the business evolved into an Italian restaurant and pizzeria.
Then, residents of Northeast Pennsylvania were introduced to la puccia, which Linda Fanelli described as a flat, round bread that resembles pita in appearance — though it has a totally different taste and texture — which is baked, then cut open to create a top and bottom crust. These two layers are filled with a variety of made-to-order fillings, then the puccia is placed back in the oven for a final bake, resulting in a very thin, light and crispy crust on the top and bottom.
“It originated centuries ago … (and) is specific to Puglia. You won’t see it in other regions of Italy,” Linda Fanelli said. “At Mariano’s, we bake puccia bread daily. This recipe has been passed down through many generations of Mariano’s family, and it is the same recipe that he continues to use today.”
Fanelli believes no one had ever tasted la puccia in America before its debut in Luzerne County in 1988. She claims Mariano’s was the first pucceria outside of Puglia, Italy, and the first one in America.
Over the last 33 years, the Fanellis have created more than two dozen varieties of la puccia. But there’s much more to the menu at Mariano’s. Diners also can find different styles of pizza, including round Neapolitan/New York-style or Sicilian/Old Forge-style, as well as homemade soups, meatballs, Eggplant Parmigiana, salads and panini. It also features pasta specials nightly except on Fridays.
To cap these hearty meals, Mariano’s offers homemade and imported desserts, too.
There’s seating for about 50 at the Wyoming Avenue restaurant, which Fanelli described as friendly, warm and inviting.
“The atmosphere in our dining room is very lovely, elegant and classy, but not stuffy,” she said.
Guests are advised that each dish is prepared to order, and with no microwaves in the kitchen or institutionalized, processed or portion-controlled foods used, Mariano’s should not be considered a “fast-food establishment,” Fanelli added.
“The thing that we hope customers love and appreciate about our food is the freshness of our ingredients, the consistent, upscale quality of everything that we create, and the artisanship of everything that comes out of our kitchen,” she said.
Mariano’s Original Pucceria
- Address: 1109 Wyoming Ave., Exeter
- Phone: 570-883-1960
- Established: 1988
- Owner: Mariano Fanelli
- Cuisine: Italian
- Hours: Tuesdays through Thursdays and Saturdays, 3 to 9 p.m.; Fridays, 3 to 10 p.m.
- Online: Visit the restaurant’s Facebook page.
Patrice Wilding is a 13-year employee of the Lifestyles Dept. at The Times-Tribune, where she worked her way up from a clerk to a web video producer to a full-time reporter, writer and copy editor. An Olyphant native, she graduated from Mid Valley Secondary Center and earned a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with concentration in media arts, political science and communications from Wesley College, Dover, Delaware. She lives in Clarks Summit with her husband, Justin, and their son, Johnny. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5369; @pwildingTT