History of Caro Amico ~ An Italian Cafe
When Fred Baker and Joe Fracasso found the old Victorian house at Barbur Boulevard and Pennoyer Street in the summer of 1949, their plan was to turn it into a full-bore, honest-to goodness speakeasy; three stories of somewhat questionable fun. However, by the time they opened the doors that fall; it was a full-bore honest- to- goodness red-checked tablecloth Italian restaurant. Seems that while the boys worked on their speakeasy, Dorothy McCullough Lee was elected mayor and declared war on speakeasies featuring wine, women, song and gambling. So, it's due to a mayor's election that one of Portland's oldest and best Italian restaurants became Caro Amico, an Italian Café instead of an outside-the-law gin mill.
Fred and Joe were the first to introduce honest-to-goodness authentic pizza pie to Portland. Sure, the Italian Madri and Nonne in the Lair Hill Neighborhood served pizza to their families, but to the rest of 1949 Portland, pizza was still an exotic foreign food.
In 1951, a handsome and dashing New Yorker, Nick Marino, replaced Fracasso as chef and partner. Marino dazzled diners with Lobster Fra Diavalo, and Oysters Rockefeller. Long-time Caro Amico regulars still remember long romantic evenings with candles burning in empty Chianti bottles, and signing the lampshades before they left. Each weekend long lines of people formed outside waiting to get in to get a taste of what this new hot spot had to offer. Caro Amico became a Portland landmark.
Marino moved on a few years later, and Fred's two sons, Kenneth and Jack joined the business. In 1959 Jack left and opened Amalfi's Italian Restaurant in Northeast Portland.
In 1963, the old Victorian on Barbur caught fire and burned to the ground; a very sad day, indeed. A new restaurant was built on the original foundation, and today the building's inviting, warm, cozy and classic mid-century design remains exactly as it was built – it is or it continues to be a place where you are always welcome, important and appreciated.
Fred's daughter, Elsie Baker McFarland travelled the globe with her Navy husband until 1975 when she returned to Portland and joined Caro Amico as her brother Kenneth's partner. Elsie's son Scott, an OSU Graduate, became bar manager in 1980. A few years later Scott left and opened American Dream Pizza in Portland, and one in Corvallis. Scott and his partner, Sebastian Malinow turned the old Greyhound Bus Depot in Corvallis into Big River Bistro, a very hip and upscale dinner house, featuring terrific food, music and art. Scott opened a second Corvallis American Dream in 2004.
In 2009, Caro Amico celebrated 60 years right here where we began. We paused for an evening's reflection and grand celebration, but the next day it was business as usual. That same year Gabe Tapia – armed with tons of culinary and management skills – took over as Kitchen Manager, adding energy and creativity to the Menu and the Staff.
Here we are Today. The flickering Chianti bottle candles and redchecked tablecloths may be a memory, but the the authentic, honest-to-goodness pizza, perfect pasta and warm hospitality remain as they were. The old walls hold wonderful memories. It they could talk, they would tell of prom nights, romantic Valentine’s dinners, whispered promises, big announcements at family gatherings, birthdays, Holiday Celebrations and just good times enjoyed by thousands of guests.
Being part of your good times is our greatest pleasure.
We look forward to seeing you very soon.
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