By Noelle H. Lowery
When you walk up to the front door of Arturo’s Restaurant on Marco Island, you notice a plaque on the wall. On that plaque is a prayer for “the customer within our gates.” It welcomes patrons to their “second home” and beckons them to “be as comfortable and happy as (they) are in (their) own home.”
One meeting with co-owner Judy Barney makes it clear that the words on the plaque are more than just sentiment. They are the life’s blood of the restaurant.
“Our slogan is ‘come home to Arturo’s’,” Barney says with emphasis, and though the restaurant just celebrated 18 years on the island, she is confident that visitors feel like they are coming home when they enter the 150-seat, Bald Eagle Drive location.
Barney started the restaurant with her partner, Arturo Perez, Sr., in 1996. Since then, the two have become synonymous with classic, homemade Italian cuisine for Marco Islanders. Everything is made fresh daily — from breads to desserts to salad dressings to pastas. Stop a local on the street and ask them about Arturo’s signature stuffed pork chop, and you are likely to hear an ode to tender pork loin pounded thin, stuffed with mozzarella cheese, prosciutto, raisins and fresh herbs, and finished with a marsala cream sauce.
Still, key to Arturo’s success and its at-home atmosphere is the fact that it is a family business under the same ownership since inception. Arturo’s sons — Edgar Perez and Arturo Perez, Jr. — have worked in the restaurant since they were 17 and 15, respectively. Each started out washing dishes in their father’s kitchen, and along the way, they both cultivated a passion for cooking that rivals the patriarch.
Today, Arturo has turned the kitchen over to his sons, with Edgar at the helm as executive chef. While Arturo Sr. expedites the operation, his two “boys” carry on their father’s tradition of preparing fine Italian dishes, and no one misses a beat. “It is a well-oiled machine,” says Barney of the kitchen. “They are brothers, and there is a lot of love in there.”
“It’s easy because it is run by a family,” Edgar notes. Arturo Jr. adds, “The recipes and the food are consistent.”
Still, that does not mean the two brothers are not adding their own twists to the menu. Edgar Al Modo Mio is a pasta dish Edgar made frequently at home for his wife, Bianca, who is a vegetarian, before adding it to Arturo’s repertoire. It is loaded with mushrooms, peas and artichoke hearts sautéed in olive oil and garlic. Arturo Jr.’s Penne Rosa Verda with arugula, gorgonzola cheese, onions, almonds and tomato in garlic and olive oil is quickly becoming a house favorite.
The formula is working. Arturo’s has been Zagat-rated for the last four years, and it also has been recognized by “Wine Spectator” for nearly a decade for its amazing list of 157 wines, 40 of which are available by the glass.
The restaurant is incredibly busy right now at the height of season, with predictions being made that this will be the best season in many years. Even so, Barney, Edgar and Arturo Jr. already are turning their sights to summer time, developing new summer menu items and specials. A VIP Club also is in the works.
All of these efforts are to make patrons feel like they have come home when they dine at Arturo’s or even when they call to place a to-go order. Either way, Barney and the boys want everyone to leave satisfied. “We want to provide a well-rounded meal at reasonable prices,” says Barney. “If being too full is the only complaint we have, then we are doing really well.”