By Connie Bye
Pino Sordello wants Via Rosa 11 to be a sensual feast: the aroma of simmering marinara, a greeting as you walk through the door, the sight of people preparing food. Just don’t call it a restaurant! “It’s a glorified deli,” he said with a laugh. He’s lived on Bainbridge 23 of his 68 years, but part of his heart still beats for his late mother’s home, Via Rosa 11, Borgo d’Oneglia, Italy, near the French border.
How would you describe the food you serve?
I go back to the farms, the peasant type of food—simple ingredients of high quality, without overworking them. Let the ingredients speak for themselves.
Your recipes started with your mother?
As a young man, I needed to cook. When you immigrate, you miss the family, the friends and the food. So, I started to call my mother and my sister, also an amazing cook, back in Italy. My mother would say to put in a little handful of something or put in a finger [finger-size portion]. She didn’t use a measuring cup. It was amazing food, consistent every time.
The food business demands a lot of your time, yet you still stop and talk with customers.
I love people. I love to talk, particularly if they are older, wiser. I’m always curious. Coming to this country, creating a family here, it gave me a good perspective in terms of how hopeful that can be.
What’s your business philosophy?
We have an open kitchen; you can see what we’re cooking for you. We like to engage with people. The environment is very easy for people to come in and feel just comfortable, almost like your family kitchen or a friend’s. There’s a sense of community. I’m not a trained chef. I don’t try to be something I’m not. The thing I’m very hard-headed about: It must be my way. I try to be as authentic as I can.
What strikes you about American food habits?
There is a cornucopia of food, but we are moving very fast. When I go to the supermarket and look in some of the carts, sometimes I’m thinking, “No, no.” People choose what can go in the microwave. We rely too much on convenience, the quick take.
What type of food do you eat when you dine out?
I love sushi. The Japanese cuisine for me is very clean. Clean, not only in terms of sanitation, but clean in terms of the taste. The aesthetic is very appetizing because of the way they present it.
Via Rosa was named Best Pizza in Seattle by The Infatuation, an online review site. Where did you get that pizza oven?
It was built in Napoli-not Naples, that’s in Florida. It’s a very ancient way of cooking things, but it’s remarkable.
Anything you would like to add?
I like to feed kids. It’s important that they develop early a taste for a variety of food. A father asked, “Could I just have a cheese pizza?” I said, “Don’t do that.” Kids need to be exposed to all food, genuine food. Too much salt, too much whatever, it’s no good. When they taste the real thing, they’re never going back.