If you live in Thurston County, and haven’t stopped by Pellegrino’s, you’re missing out on what local diners are fondly calling the “Best Little Italian Restaurant in Town.” And no other restaurant has earned that title as much as they have.
Tucked away on the corner of Bates Street and Cleveland Avenue, with more and more customers coming in primarily through word of mouth, this cozy Italian restaurant only serves authentic Italian dishes that have been passed down the Pellegrino family for generations. Their minestrone is made from scratch, their classic lasagna is the richest experience your tongue will ever taste, and there’s absolutely nothing like their alfredo sauce.
And if you want an authentic Italian dessert, try their cassata cake. “You won’t see that one anywhere else around town,” Jennifer Pellegrino, restaurant manager and daughter to owner Sam Pellegrino, said.
“I remember my dad making that cake when I was this big,” she gestured, lowering her hand to show just how big—or rather small—she was at the time. The dessert, an angel food cake layered with cannoli filling topped with strawberry glaze, was brought to Thurston County by Sam several years ago and is only served at Pellegrino’s.
Simply put, they just have great food.
And not only that, the moment you step in through Pellegrino’s doors, you’re wrapped up in this warm, pleasant ambiance that makes you feel like you just crossed the Atlantic and stepped onto Italian soil. You can choose between sitting downstairs, which has an open café appeal, or opt for more private seating upstairs where you can sip wine and whittle a rainy day away in quiet comfort.
On your way up the stairs, you’ll see faded black and white photos of the Pellegrino family. There’s even a picture of Sam Pellegrino when he was just a boy before he became the renowned chef and catering professional he is today.
A full blooded Sicilian from the little town of Palermo, the semi-retired restaurateur has had a long history within the Thurston County culinary world, starting his career with the eastern-based Ponderosa Steak House in the late 1970s. Sam then moved on to the Harborside Restaurant, and then an earlier fine dining rendition of Pellegrino’s, all the while building a highly sought after catering company in the heart of Olympia.
“Our catering has been in Thurston Country for over 30 years,” Jennifer said. “You have to go above and beyond what people are expecting, especially with catering. Because you’re making an impression on 200 people, all at the same time. Your staff has to be very coordinated. Very organized.
“And you never run out of food,” Jennifer said. That was Sam’s motto when it came to catering and it was a rule he never broke. There’re always plenty of leftovers at an event.
Pellegrino’s catering side accommodates large government receptions, business banquets, weddings, anniversaries, and even your grandfather’s 65th birthday celebration.
There are organizations in town that exclusively use Pellegrino’s for their catering needs, and many new customers are people who’ve gone to a wedding that the family has catered, Jennifer explained. When it was time for previous wedding guests to tie the knot themselves, they wanted the Pellegrino catering staff to take care of their special day.
And they don’t just serve Italian fare. The menu can be as varied or as traditional as the customer wants, including Irish, German, American, and even Japanese cuisine, though Jennifer said there was only one time they served sushi. And that was to a thousand Japanese exchange students.
It’s one of her dad’s favorite stories.
Once you’ve experienced a Pellegrino catered event, you never use anyone else. By the time Pellegrino’s Italian Kitchen opened on Cleveland Avenue merely eight years ago, Sam and his family had a solid reputation of serving Olympia and Thurston County diners for almost three decades.
“Everybody knows my dad,” Jennifer said when asked about Sam’s reputation among the community. “You cannot go anywhere without somebody knowing my father.”
And if you’ve ever met Sam Pellegrino, you’d know him as a very jolly and extremely personable man with impeccable standards when it came to food and service.
“If there was a carving station, he was the carver, talking to the people while they’re going through the line and making sure everything was okay. He puts that special touch to the event.”
“We have so many regular customers that tell their friends, ‘Oh, you have to come to Pellegrino’s. You have to come to Pellegrino’s.’ Or ‘I came because my friend told me to come, and you guys have such a good name in the community,’” Jennifer said when asked about what their customers say about them.
“I think that’s a huge part of it.” Having absolutely amazing food and a staff that’ll treat you right will take you a very long way every single time.
If you not only want great Italian food, but also simply a great restaurant experience, call Pellegrino’s for dining in or on the go. Or bring the culture of this little Italian kitchen to your next event. And don’t forget to say hi to Sam and the rest of the Pellegrino family!
Pellegrinos Italian Kitchen
205 Cleveland Avenue SE
Tumwater, WA 98501